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M Phil, Columbia University, 1974 
MA, Columbia University, 1971 

Submitted in partial fulfillment of the 

requirements for the degree of 



©Copyright by 



Approved by 


Christopher Duraisingh, B.A., B^D., MTh., Th.D, D.D. 
Professor of Applied Theology 

* v- 

First Reader 

* (,' 

Gale A. Yee, B.A., MA., PhD 

Interim Director of Studies in Feminist Liberation Theologies 

and Visiting Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible and 

Women's Studies 

Second Reader 


Pamela Wei 
M Div nr 

Third Reader 


■^isisur*- — 

Victoria Pearson 
M Div II 


I am grateful beyond words that I was able to undertake and complete this project under 
the guidance of Professor Christopher Duraisingh, the Otis Charles Professor of Applied 
Theology at Episcopal Divinity School. Since I first met him I have admired the way 
imagination, intellect, and feeling flow in him in a single stream. He truly possesses the 
trait T.S. Eliot attributed to John Donne — a "unified sensibility." 

During this past year, his patient, sensitive, and demanding pedagogy pushed me 
to boldly go beyond beyond tentativeness and a distanced academic voice and learn to 
speak out of the authority ( ^ouoia — "from the source") of my years as a performer. I 
hope that in my preaching, writing, and teaching to come I can draw more and deeply on 
that source and at least approach the formation of a unified sensibility in myself. 

With deep affection I remember the many people I met in South India who spent time in 
conversation with me and generously shared their work and their lives. In Bangalore and 
area: Sathianathan and Prema Clarke, Jyoti Sahi, M.C. and Jyoti Raj, Ramanna, Xavier, 
David and Corinne Scott, Michael Traber, Sham P. Thomas, Chris Furtado, Alex 
Oomens, Christine Bell, and Anne Vroom. In Chennai: Deenabandhu and Vinita 
Manchala, Mungai, N. Muthuswamy, Palani, Devika, and Pralayan. In Madurai: J. 
Theophilus Appavoo, Charles, Abraham, and Julie. Many thanks also to Nathan Scott, 
raised in India and now a puppeteer in the Pacific Northwest, whose name opened many 

I want to thank my readers, Professor Gale A. Yee, Pamela Werntz, and Victoria Pearson, 
for their support and enthusiasm for this work. With Pam I have enjoyed a running 
conversation practically from the moment we first met, ranging over children, sacrifice, 
liturgy, and why are we doing this. Our friendship is a source of great joy. 

Finally, I am grateful to my husband, Will, and my son, Andy. They have put up with my 
frequent physical and mental absences, have listened to my ramblings, and patiently 
waited through "one more revision." My daughter, Hannah, meanwhile, continually 
inspires me with her exuberant creativity. 








An Introduction to Indian Street Theatre 7 

Performers in Indian Street Theatre 

The Experiential Sources of Indian Street Theatre 

Use of Folk Theatre Forms 

Challenges Oppressive Social Structures 

Indian Steet Theatre as Radical Performance 16 

Radical Performance 

The Ontological Complexity of Performance 24 

Performances as Nondiscursive Communication 26 

Performance Space and Time 
The Through-Line 
Symbols in Performance 

How are Performances Effective? 37 

Revelatory Efficacy 
Constitutive Efficacy 
Operational Efficacy 

Emancipatory Performance 45 




Ritual as Performance 54 

Ritual Performances as Nondiscursive Communication 59 

Ritual Space and Time 

The Through-Line 

Symbols in Ritual Performance 

Ritual Performances and Ontological Complexity 65 

The Efficacy of Ritual Performances 68 

Ritual and Revelatory Efficacy 
Ritual and Constitutive Efficacy 
Ritual and Operational Efficacy 

The Rite II Eucharistic Liturgy as Effective Performance 74 

Space and Time 

Indian Street Theatre and Eucharistic Liturgy: Towards 
a More Emancipatory Performance 93 

Ritual Space and Time 

Conclusion Ill 




In July, 1998, 1 travelled to South India on a grant from the Seminary Consultation 
on Mission. The focus of my work was the use of street theatre in India as a tool in the 
struggle for liberation. This project arose partly out of a life-long passion for performance 
which led me to a career as a professional puppeteer, writing, designing, and performing 
productions based on folk tales. I was inspired, as well, by my developing commitment to 
mission understood as missio Dei, the "saving love of the suffering God," 1 whose task is 
to create a "human community in which the forces of love, justice, and peace may prevail 
over the powers of hate, oppression, and inhumanity." 2 

While I was still in India I became fascinated with the question of the relationship 
between the socially committed theatre work I was encountering — which I saw as very 
much a collaboration with the missio Dei — and sacramental liturgy. While street theatre 
and sacramental liturgy may seem radically disparate, I became convinced that they are in 
fact intimately linked in at least four ways: a. they are performances; b. they aim to be 
effective; c. the intended effect is transformation, and d. the nature of the hoped-for 

'C. S. Song, "An Asian View of Mission," in Christian Mission, Jewish Mission ed. 
Martin A. Cohen and Helga Croner (New York: Paulist Press, 1982), 171. 

2 Ibid., 185. 

transformation is expressed by a family of terms including 'liberation,' 'emancipation,' 
'salvation,' and 'redemption. With the example of Indian street theatre before me, I began 
to question why that other kind of effective performance, sacramental liturgy, often seems 
to ignore suffering, suppress or disembody hope, and promote stasis rather than 
transformation. This paper is an attempt to look at Eucharistic liturgy through the lens of 
Indian street theatre, with the hope that the latter will suggest specific ways to re-form the 
performance of Eucharistic liturgies so that they may more effectively mediate the 
sacramental promise of liberation/salvation. 

During my time in India, I was confronted starkly with the unearned privilege that 
accrues to me by virtue of being a middle-class Euro- American woman. In my work on 
this paper, I have been continually aware of the incongruity of my voice as this woman, 
addressing others with similar privilege, making use of the insights gained from my 
experience with a theatre performed for and often by people who live on the edge of 
survival, without what I consider basic necessities, excluded from the dominant society, 
marginalized, expendable. I have realized the extent to which I lead a protected life, in 
which the risks I take are mostly professional and are cushioned by an underlying 
economic security. 

The encounters I had in India and the layers of realization I have passed through 
during the writing of this thesis have precipitated over time a kind of conversion 
experience. I have always loved liturgy passionately. Now, as a result of my experiences 
over the past year, my commitment to the search for more emancipatory performance, to 

more powerful evocations of the liberative heart of liturgy for both privileged and 
nonprivileged groups of worshippers, has come more and more to define my sense of 


Packed into a Landrover, the performers travel out at dusk from the small city of 
Tumkur in south India. Once out of the city, they leave the main road and travel along 
narrower roads with fields of bananas and rice on either side. Women walk along the 
edge of the road with jars of water on their heads; here a boy drives home a few cows; 
there a group of girls trots alongside a herd of goats. An oxcart creaks by, piled with hay. 
The truck stops at a cross roads and two more actors tuck themselves into the truck. The 
truck turns up a rough road, past a village temple, past small clay and cinderblock houses, 
then passes through an oddly clear area — no buildings at all — and the road narrows even 
more. That blank space is a boundary between the first, slightly more affluent looking 
village where the people belonging to the four Hindu castes live, and the village reserved 
for the Dalits, the "Untouchables," who are, according to the Hindu world view both 
outside the "Hindu human community" 3 and a source of ritual pollution to caste Hindus. 

3 Sathianathan Clarke, Dalits and Christianity: Subaltern Religions and Liberation 
Theology in India (Calcutta: Oxford University Press, 1998), 18. The word 'Dalit' means 
"'oppressed,' 'broken,' and 'crushed,' which most realistically describes the lives of almost 
all of those who are part of this cluster of communities" (ibid). The term has been self- 
chosen and self-applied by people belonging to this group, as the term "black" was by 
African- Americans during the 1960's Civil Rights movement in the United States. 

The truck bumps down one more street, slowed by people from the village who 
call to the actors through the windows, and walk along with the truck until it pulls over. 
The performers pile out, straighten their simple costumes of white pants, long white tops 
and red sashes, pull their drums and a few props out of the truck. Suddenly the mood is 
festive, as the actors and villagers make their way in a laughing, bantering procession to a 
tiny central "square" lit only by a single electric light on a pole. Little girls dance to pop 
music blaring from a loudspeaker as men and women pull out logs for seats or crowd 
together on mats or on the dusty ground. The performers form a circle in the middle of the 
space, sitting cross legged, some with their frame drums on their laps. The playing area 
defined by the circle of actors is tiny, no larger than 10' in diameter. The space feels 

Ramanna, the leader of the performer and composer of the songs and plays, starts 
to drum and sing. His style is forceful — he drives the song out, his intensity heightening 
the excitement. Then the first play begins: A Dalit couple borrows 5,000 rupees from the 
rich landowner for whom they work. To seal the bargain, the man puts his thumb print on 
a blank paper. When they succeed in selling enough produce to pay back the money they 
borrowed, he tells them "no, no, look at this contract — you borrowed 15,000 rupees." The 
couple is on the brink of losing the tiny piece of land they own to their wealthy boss in 
repayment of the "debt," but they are saved through an act of Dalit solidarity: their friends 
accompany the couple to the landowner and threaten that they'll go to the police. 
Intimidated, the landowner relents and declares the debt fully paid. 

The story unfolds through acted scenes using both dialogue and mime, alternating 
with songs led by Ramanna in a popular call-and-response form in which the audience 
joins the actors in singing the response. Each scene builds to a climax, and at the most 
intense moment of threat or violence, the actors freeze, holding their pose while the other 
performers sing a commentary on the action. 

Play follows play late into the night, vignettes from a life of hard agricultural 
labor — 1 1 hours a day in the fields, six or seven days a week; poverty — in this work they 
earn less than $100 per year; violence, exclusion, oppression. In one play, a father sells 
his children into bonded labor, a form of virtual slavery. The refrain of the song is 
"Daddy, please let me go to school." Another, called "Untouchability," begins with a 
Dalit man fainting from the heat. A friend dips a towel into a caste community well, an 
act which, since Dalits are from the caste Hindu point of view ritually impure, "pollutes" 
the well. When the friend is caught he's dragged before a panchayat or "court" of caste 
people and falsely accused. Meanwhile, three men from the village plot to rape his wife. 

During the plays, the members of the audience frequently sit absorbed, sometimes 
laugh, often comment to each other about what is happening, Toddlers wander about; 
every once in a while a man who has been drinking off in the shadows shouts out an 

Finally, the performance ends. Mothers, exhausted from working in the fields all 
day, pick up sleeping babies and shoo their older children in front of them toward their 
homes. A few people stay and talk with the performers about the plays or what is 

happening in their lives. The performers — themselves Dalits from villages nearby who 
work in the fields during the days — pack their drums back in the truck and drive away. 
They'll hop out one by one at their villages along the way back to Tumkur. 

An Introduction to Indian Street Theatre 

This street theatre performance took place last July in a Dalit village in the district 
of Tumkur in the south Indian state of Karnataka. Ramanna, a composer and playwright 
who is himself a Dalit, is on the staff of a social action group called REDS, the Rural 
Education Development Society, which is dedicated to the empowerment of Dalits and 
which uses street performance as an integral part of its efforts. 

A closer look at several features of the REDS performance will serve as an 
introductory overview of Indian street theatre in general. 4 First, the production was 
initiated and supported by a nongovernmental organization (NGO) and it was created and 
performed by Dalits for Dalits. Second, the topics of the performance were drawn from 
the sorts of events with which the members of the audience have to contend in their daily 
life. Third, the performance made use of forms of theatre rooted in the folk tradition. 
Fourth, the small plays represented not personal conflicts, but structural oppression. A 

4 In this paper, I will be using "street theatre" in the Indian context to refer to a kind of 

politically oriented theatre. This is a common usage, both in India and elsewhere, 
although other terms are used, including "Popular Theatre" (by Jacob Srampickal, Voice to 

the Voiceless: The Power of People's Theatre in India [London: Hurst & Company, 1994]) 

and "Theatre of Liberation" (by Eugene Van Erven, The Playful Revolution 

(Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1992). 

brief look at each of these characteristics — the performers, the kinds of events which 
generate the performances, the forms used, and the focus or object of the 
performances — will open up for us something of the history and character of 
contemporary Indian street theatre. 

Performers in Indian Street Theatre 
The REDS performance is fairly typical of Indian political street theatre in that the 
"cultural team" of nonprofessional street theatre performers is sponsored by an NGO or 
social action group as one face of its outreach program. It is difficult for Western 
observers to realize the extent to which drama is considered an intrinsic part of work for 
social change in India. For example, in the manual designed by REDS for its extensive 
training program to empower Dalit villagers for political action, the first two items in the 
list of skills to be developed are songs and dramas, "especially street plays." 5 Since before 
India's struggle for independence, social activists and writers have been creating plays 
designed to be performed for and in some cases by poor and working-class people. 
Theatre historian Jacob Srampickal considers pivotal actions connected with the Indian 
struggle for independence as forms of street theatre: ". . . Gandhi's Salt March at Dandi 
(1930) . . . contained elements normally associated with street theatre. The march and the 
picking up of the salt was a staging. It was a community activity involving actors and 

5 M.C. Raj, Participatory Training Methodology: A Process and Content for 
Empowerment (Madras: Dialogue Group, no date), p. 37. 


audience and asserting the public's rights against the threats of an oppressor." 6 An overtly 
theatrical and highly influential nationwide movement began with the founding in 1942 
of IPTA (Indian People's Theatre Association) by the Communist Party of India. With an 
explicit agenda of spreading "nationalist and socialist ideals," 7 IPTA sent performing 
groups to both cities and rural areas to perform for working-class and peasant groups 
After independence, IPTA and other left-wing groups continued to perform, while the 
new government formed the SDD, the Song and Drama Division, whose aim, according 
to Srampickal, was to "promote national unity and to persuade the rural poor to accept 
reformist and government controlled ways for dealing with problems like population 
explosion, poverty, casteism, bonded labor, lack of housing and illiteracy." 8 

While social action groups have included dramatic performances as an intrinsic 
part of their outreach efforts, theatre activists — actors, writers, and directors — have also 
created important street theatre productions. One of the best known independent street 
theatre groups is Janam, founded in New Delhi by Safdar Hashmi in the early 1970's. 
Janam, whose name means "the people" in the sense of the masses or the oppressed, was 
primarily known for its performances on behalf of industrial workers. In January, 1989, 
Hashmi was murdered, allegedly at the behest of right wing politicians, during a 

6 Srampickal, 102. 
7 Ibid., 47. 
8 Ibid, 49. 

performance of a Janam play whose theme was the government's repression of the labor 

In the cases of the social action groups and theatre practitioners, Indian street 
theatre is performed primarily by middle-class or possibly working-class people for those 
who are poor, or excluded from power in the society by the caste system or by gender. 
But there is an active movement in which theatre artists or social action groups teach the 
villagers themselves the skills to make plays based on their own life circumstances. Ross 
Kidd and Mamunur Rashid, two theatre activists who have worked extensively 
throughout Asia to spread this kind of theatre, describe their experience of the impact of 
doing this kind of theatre on a community of oppressed people: 

Getting the landless laborers to do the work transformed the whole 
process: the laborers' doing the 'acting' . . . could become the first aware- 
ness-raising and confidence-building step in their taking real action . 
The activity of drama-making could become a group-building ex- 
perience in which participants deepened their understanding, bol- 
stered their morale, and developed the courage and organizational 
unity to fight for their rights. 9 

An interesting technique which combines actor-generated and "people"-generated 

street theatre is for the performers to throw the story open to audience comment or direct 

participation at some point in the action. In a street theatre production created in response 

to the burning of a mosque by Hindu fundamentalists in December 1993, a group of 

9 Ross Kidd and Mamunur Rashid, "People's Theatre and Landless Organizing in 
Bangladesh," in Social Activists and People's Movements, ed. Walter Fernandes (New 
Delhi: Indian Social Institute, 1985), 73. 


theatre activists in Madras created a play based on a familiar folktale in which a king 
must solve a riddle posed by a ghost. The actor playing the king can't answer the question 
why the mosque was burned. The ghost then turns to the audience and asks them the 
riddle, opening a conversation between the actors and audience and members of the 
audience with each other. 10 In a play raising the issue of female infanticide, created by the 
director Mungai (V. Padma) and her troupe, Voicing Silence, the performers act out 
several alternative ways a pregnant wife and husband might react to the knowledge that 
the baby the woman is carrying is a girl. Then they simply stop the action and turn the 
question to the audience: what should the couple do? The highly charged, emotional 
discussion that follows touches upon not only female infanticide but the related problem 
of dowry." 

In this brief look at Indian street theatre from the point of view of the performers, 
we have noted three kinds of performers: a. social activists for whom performance is one 
phase of their social outreach, b. theatre artists, and c. people who are themselves 
oppressed and create performances out of their day-to-day lives. A combined form 
involves the enlisting of audience's active participation in the outcome of the play. 

The Experiential Sources of Indian Street Theatre 

10 Palani, interview by author, Madras, 16 July, 1998. (Note: in South India, it is not 
unusual for people to be known by a single name.) 

"Mungai, Pacha Manu [The New Born] (Madras: M.S. Swaminathan Research 
Foundation, 1997), video recording. 


No matter who performs Indian street theatre, however, it is essential that the 
content of the performances arises from the experience of oppressed people. Indian street 
theatre performances arise out of and speak directly to the daily experience of the janam, 
the people. The men and women to whom the REDS cultural team was playing earn 
between 10 and 15 rupees a day (approximate 20 to 30 cents per day) for 1 1 or 12 hour 
days in the fields. They often find themselves caught in situations — a house needing 
repair, an illness, the marriage of a daughter — in which they must borrow money and the 
large landowner for whom they work is the only resource. After one performance I 
witnessed, the villagers and REDS actors and staff talked late into the night about what 
sorts of responses to this kind of situation were open to them. The penalty for failing to 
repay the debt is frequently the loss of the little land they possess. Standing up to the 
landlord would mean the loss of employment in those fields and possible blackballing by 
landowners in the surrounding area. The other plays that night also spoke to their 
situation: children are sold into bonded labor; as Dalits they are in danger of being raped, 
assaulted, and even murdered for perceived transgressions of caste boundaries or simply 
for being Dalit. 

Use of Folk Theatre Forms 
A third characteristic of Indian street theatre is the integration of folk theatre 
forms into the performance. In the REDS performance, the use of song and of somewhat 
formalized body movements echoed in simpler form the elaborate dance and mime plays 


of the folk tradition. For many street theatre performers, whether theatre professionals or 
members of social action groups, the use of folk theatre forms intensifies the power of 
their plays to communicate with the audience. One activist theatre group in Madras 
invited a Sri Lankan director, Ilaya Bathmanatan, to teach them techniques drawn from 
the rich folk performance traditions of Tamil Nadu, the geographic and linguistic region 
within which Madras is located. 12 Under Bathmanatan's influence, the troupe began to 
incorporate more traditional forms — dance, music, costumes, body movement, and 
makeup — in its political street performances. Palani, a young actor who participated in 
the training program, noticed a clear difference in the response of the audience to the 
forms which were rooted in their folk tradition. "The use of traditional forms involved 
people much more," he noted. "These are their forms, they link to their identity." 13 

A powerful example of the use of folk and even classical performance forms is the 
Kala Jatha (Art Procession) of the Kerala Sastra Sahituya Parishad (KSSP). The KSSP is 
a nongovernmental voluntary organization, formed in 1957 in Kerala in south India as a 
"people's science moment," which now focusses primarily on the search for alternative 
models of development to those promulgated by the Indian government or international 
agencies. 14 Organizers found that mass media and even personal visitation were 

12 Tamil Sri Lanka shares the same cultural and linguistic folk culture as Tamil Nadu. 

13 Palani, interview by author. Chennai (Madras), 8 July 1998. 

14 Sham P. Thomas, "The Use of Various Media for Development with Special Reference 
to the Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad" (M Th. thesis, Tamilnadu Theological Seminary, 


inadequate for achieving their aim. Instead they discovered that "it is the traditional media 
which can help Parishad to reach out to this people [peasants and working class] who are 
to be the initiators and masters of development." 15 Artists have adapted a wide variety of 
indigenous performance forms including classical temple dances, folk drama, and 
storytelling, to address the themes of "the power of science, the need to free science from 
the vested interests, . . ., health, pollution, education, development, . . . , corruption, self- 
reliance, etc." 16 Then several times a year, actors, singers, and dancers participate in a 
Kala Jatha "procession" which travels throughout the state of Kerala, performing these 
pieces in public spaces. Of all the modes of communication used by the KSSP, the use of 
traditional media was ranked by Keralites familiar with Parashad as significantly more 
effective than any other media used by the group. In fact, "... irrespective of gender, age, 
education, and professional differences the respondents consider traditional media as the 
most effective means of communication." 17 Among the reasons respondents gave for 
preferring traditional media were that it is "our own cultural form" which is accessible to 
all, involves direct contact, and communicates through enacting people's problems. 18 

Madurai, India, 1996), 45. 

"Ibid., 104. 

16 Ibid. 105. 

17 Ibid., 127. It must be noted that in the survey cited, younger respondents ranked 
traditional media slightly lower than "group media," i.e., interpersonal contact (126-7). 

18 Ibid., 132-3. 


Challenges Oppressive Social Structures 
The final characteristic of Indian street theatre is exemplified in the REDS 
performance described above and present in the other examples I have cited: while they 
are emotionally powerful in their presentation of personal suffering, this suffering is 
understood and presented as arising out of unjust social structures. From Gandhi's Salt 
March to the IPPA performances of the Indian Communist Party to the current flourishing 
of street theatre as an arm of the movement for Dalit liberation, Indian street theatre has 
been a "radical" movement in the sense of "acts that question or re-envision ingrained 
social arrangements of power." 19 In the play described in the introduction, the village 
audience understands that the couple's plight and the risk to their land is not (simply) a 
crisis for the couple which is "their own fault," but is a result of the linked oppressions of 
caste and class structure in contemporary India which must be addressed through Dalit 
solidarity. As Jacob Srampickal says about the response of Indian street theatres to the 
Bhopal gas tragedy, "while the official media were content with providing statistics on 
the extent of the damage, it was the street theatre groups who focused the attention of the 
people on the wider aspects of exploitation by multinationals and the continuing horrors 

19 Jan Cohen-Cruz, Radical Street Performance (New York: Routledge, 1998), 1. 1 would 
amend this definition to read, "acts that question and envision . . . arrangements of 


of the tragedy." 20 Pralayan, founder of the street theatre troupe Chennai (Madras) Kalai 
Kuzhu, makes the overt political thrust of this kind of work perfectly clear when he says, 
"Why do street theatre? We do it because of its mobility, handiness, cost-effectiveness, 
because it is close to people and not confined to any particular kind of space. But why do 
we choose to do street theatre? The answer is always political, it has to be." 21 In other 
words, Pralayan and other Indian street theatre performers understand themselves to be 
committed to a political vocation, indeed a radical political vocation which challenges 
and re-envisions the structures of power in Indian society. 

Indian Street Theatre as Radical Performance 
Why, in India and elsewhere, do social action groups and other liberation 
movements use street theatre as an integral part of their efforts to change the political and 
cultural structures of society? In the case of India, can the pervasiveness of this use of 
theatre be attributed simply to a millennia-long cultural history in which an incredible 
diversity of dramatic and dance forms have flourished? 22 It is my position that while the 
existence of this theatrical tradition provides a deep source of inspiration for Indian 

20 Srampickal, 211. 

2 'Pralayan, "Why do we choose to do street theatre?," Seagull Theatre Quarterly 16 
(Dec, 1997), 74. 

22 Srampickal lists 77 "major folk theatre forms" in India. Voice, 61. 


activists, 23 they find street theatre an effective instrument of social change because of the 
very nature of performance itself. In this section I will begin to clarify this position by 
examining the notions of performance and radical performance. 

What are the primary characteristics of performance? During the past decades a 
great deal of work has been done in the theory of performance by both anthropologists 
like Victor Turner and theorists of theatre and I will draw on this work in my analysis of 
the nature of performance. 

1. Performance is first of all embodied action in space and time. 24 It is not a daydream or 
phantasm; it involves physical objects — including human bodies — in relation to one 
another in space, and it is temporal or processual — it begins, goes on, and comes to an 
end. The anthropologist Victor Turner discerns this processual quality of performance in 
the very etymology of the word: "Performance ... is derived from the Middle English 
parfournen, later parfourmen, which is itself from the Old French parfournir — par 
('thoroughly') plus fournir ('to furnish') — hence performance does not have the 

23 A poster for "Koothu-P-Pattarai," an influential, socially committed theatre in Chennai 
(Madras), features a photo of a performer of theru-kootu (a traditional theatre form in 
Tamil Nadu) and a poem: "Theru-k-kootu, our pride, our source of new aesthetics. Let us 
celebrate its joy, its dance, its glory everywhere." 

24 In this study I am restricting 'performance' to refer to those performances which involve 
human actors (as such or augmented, for example, with masks or puppets). 


structuralist implication of manifesting form, but rather the processual sense of 'bringing 
to completion' or 'accomplishing.' To perform is thus to complete a more or less involved 
process rather than to do a single deed or act." 25 

As embodied and processual, performances are complex acts involving bodies, 
movements, space, colors and shapes, sounds, atmosphere, pace, rhythm, and plot or 
"flow." Performances "play with" or "play through" a multiplicity of elements which have 
been (to some extent at least) deliberately organized and ordered. Performances are "sym- 
bolic," in the suggestive etymological sense of that word: in making a performance all 
sorts of elements are creatively "thrown together" to make a dynamic whole. 26 
2. Communication is intrinsic to performance. A performance is a communication event: 

a. It assumes an observer, it is "that kind of doing in which the observation of the 
deed is an essential part of its doing, even if the observer be invisible or is the performer 
herself." 27 In the example of the performance in the Dalit village described above, it was 
the gathering of the audience which signalled that there would in fact be a 
performance — the "talk-through" rehearsal of the play by the actors in the truck 
beforehand would not count as a performance. 

15 Victor Turner, From Ritual to Theatre: The Human Seriousness of Play (New York: 
PAJ Publications, 1982), 91. 

26 Jyoti Sahi, The Child and the Serpent: Reflections on Popular Indian Symbols 
(Bangalore: Asian Trading Corporation, 1980), 18. 

27 Tom Driver, The Magic of Ritual (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1991), 81. 


b. It is understood as a performance by the performers. Schechner identifies this 
characteristic of performance as "twice-behaved behavior," or "known and/or practiced 
behavior." 28 This does not require a written text or formal rehearsal; depending on the 
nature of the performance, the performers may need only consciously follow a set of 
rules, as, for example, in sports or theatrical improvisation. 29 But whether the 
performance is based on a text or generated from improvisation, the performers must 
intend to communicate to the observers or audience, must "play" to them. 

c. It is a communication within a particular system of symbols, meanings, and 
conventions. If there were not a shared system of conventions, the event would not even 
be experienced as "a performance," but merely as a sequence of behaviors. As the theatre 
director and theorist Richard Schechner has observed, "... what is performed is 
encoded — I want to say nested, trapped, contained, distilled, held, restrained, 
metaphorized — in one or more special kinds of communication: either as a mixture of 
narrative and Hindu temple service as in Ramlila, or as fixed narrative and individual 
creativity as in any . . . productions of, say, Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard . . ." 30 And 

28 Schechner, Performative Circumstances: From the Avant Garde to Ramlila (Calcutta: 
Seagull Books, 1983), 91. 

29 The recent film, The Truman Show, in which a young man is unaware that his "reality" 
is a television show in which all the other characters are actors, tests this condition of 

performance. However, the fact that at least some of those involved know that they are 
performing does qualify it as a performance in my sense. 

30 Richard Schechner, Performative Circumstances, 90. 


without shared symbols and meanings, no communication at all can take place. For 
example, a Eucharist performed in a Hindu village or a theru-kootu dance performed on 
the streets of Cambridge may be considered simply as odd, incomprehensible sets of 
behavior or even if they are recognized as performances, they will not be apprehended as 
the performers mean them to be. 31 

In this section, we have looked at performance from the perspective of 
performance theory and seen that a performance is a complex, embodied, processual 
event which intrinsically involves communication among observers and self-aware 
performers within a shared system of symbols, conventions, and meanings. While this 
may seem a quite abstract way to understand an event as vital, sensuous, and exciting as 
an actual performance, I believe that this point of view begins to hint at the sources of the 
power of performance, the power which Indian street theatre counts on to effect social 

Radical Performance 
In my discussion of Indian street theatre above I invoked a definition of "radical" 
as "acts that question and re-envision ingrained social arrangements of power." 32 It might 
be well to push the definition even farther, modifying it to read, "acts that challenge and 

3 'See John Heilpern, Conference of the Birds: The Story of Peter Brook in Africa 
(London: Faber, 1977) for an amusing and illuminating example of a European 
experimental theatre troupe touring African villages in search of "universal theatre." 

32 Adapted from Cohen-Cruz, Radical Street Performance, 1 . 


re-envision . . . ." This would draw on the etymology of the word 'radical.' to convey the 
fact that "radical" performances aim at social changes at the very "root" of society. 

The definition I am working with derives from a discussion of radical street 
performance by the theatre activist and theorist Jan Cohen-Cruz. Radical performance in 
Cohen-Cruz' sense covers a wide variety of historical and contemporary performances, all 
of which challenge and re-envision the prevailing power structures: the theatrical plays 
of the 20th century German playwright Bertolt Brecht, who exposed the stage machinery 
and required his actors not to express the feelings of the characters they played but rather 
their own critical attitudes towards the characters — all in order to break down the 
empathy the audience might feel for the characters and provoke instead critical, political 
reflection on the social situations underlying the dramatic events; the rallies and marches 
of the Ku Klux Klan and the Third Reich, both intending to advance the hegemony of a 
"master race"; the silent vigils of Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, mourning their sons 
and daughters who "disappeared" during the Dirty War in Argentina; the Dalit village 
performance we looked at above; and, finally, even the prophetic performances in the 
Hebrew Scriptures — I think especially of Ezekiel, lying on his left side for 390 days in 
the city center next to a miniature construction representing the siege of Jerusalem, all as 
"a sign for the house of Israel" (Ez. 4: 1-4). 

How does radical performance relate to the analysis of performance developed in 
the last section? Let us look briefly at how the elements of performance in general are 
instantiated in radical performance. 


First, like all performances, radical performances are complex, processual 
embodiments in space and time. But the embodiments presented in radical performance 
have two characteristics distinguishing them from other performances: 1. since they are 
by definition in a more or less explicit confrontation with the power structures of the 
particular social context with which they are being performed, the content — the 
characters, plots, arrangements of the playing space, songs, etc. — is constructed in 
opposition to specific social facts. This may be accomplished in a variety of ways. In the 
Dalit performance described above, for example, the foreman of the landlord was a 
buffoon, and even as he conspired with the landlord to cheat the peasants, he was an 
object of ridicule for the audience whom they could disempower through laughter. 2. 
Radical performances to some extent re-envision alternative social structures. In the 
dramatic world of the performance, Dalit peasants stood together in solidarity and thereby 
saved the couple's land. While this may not (yet) have happened in daily reality, it has at 
least come to be within the performance. This is a crucial feature of the effectiveness of 
radical performance which I will discuss in detail below. 

Second, the nature of the performance as a communication event between 
performers and audience also takes on a distinctive character in radical performance. 1 . 
The performers are aware of themselves and their actions with respect to two different 
sets of actual or potential observers — those who are relatively powerless in the society 
and those who are beneficiaries and/or agents of "ingrained social arrangements of 
power," in Cohen-Cruz' phrase. Radical performance is by its nature a challenge; it 


"draws people who comprise a contested reality into what its creators hope will be a 
changing script." 33 Even when a radical performance is played before an audience which 
supports the position expressed in it, there exists a potential audience of persons hostile to 
the critique it embodies. Radical performances can mean real risk for both performers and 
audience. 2. In radical performances, the relationship between the performers and the 
observers, while often beginning as a neutral relationship, is often intended to be changed 
during the course of the performance. In some cases the performers hope to enlist from 
the audience fellow workers for social change. In others, the performers try to enter into a 
fuller, more personal relationship with the audience through the performance. For 
example, in Mungai's street theatre play about female infanticide, 34 the performance 
begins and ends in lively human contact between performers and audience. The 
performers laugh, converse, and sing with the villagers as they walk to the performance 
space, literally entering into the audience's social world. And then the performance "ends" 
with an open discussion by actors and villagers. 

In this section, we have seen that radical performance has significant properties 
which distinguish it from other kinds of performance. It is created to stand in opposition 
to prevailing social structures and to pose alternatives to them. As a communication 
event, the performers play implicitly or explicitly both to those who are oppressed by 

33 Ibid. 


See page 1 1 above. 


existing social arrangements and to those who benefit, and the relationship between 
performers and audience changes through the duration of the performance. 

The Ontological Complexity of Performance 
When the REDS performers, in the tiny bit of village street that was their "stage," 
began to enact the story of the Dalit couple being cheated by the wealthy landowner, a set 
of profound changes took place. The performance layered, upon the ordinary daily life of 
the village and within that dusty little circle where the story was being played, a different 
space and time, the space and time of the embodied story. The actors, whom the audience 
knew as fellow peasants, became at the same time other people — the landowner, foreman, 
couple, supporters. The relationship of acquaintances and social equals became overlayed 
with different kinds of relationships — that between the performers and the audience, and, 
among the performers, the different social relationships they were enacting. 

This layering of dramatic space and time upon daily space and time, of assumed 
character upon ordinary identity, of new patterns of relationship upon normal patterns is 
at the heart of performance and is a primary source of its power to effect change. I call 
this pivotal characteristic the ontological complexity of performance. In the ontological 
complexity of a performance, new realities come to be. They do not replace ordinary lived 
reality, but are conjoined in, layered with, a wider reality composed of both the dramatic 
and the daily worlds. For the duration of the performance both worlds are real and so is 


their coexistence. 35 

The ontological complexity of performance allows it to be effective primarily by 
providing the opportunity for looseness, slippage, imbalance — in a performance event, 
reality is no longer "all of a piece" because other possibilities are brought into existence, 
As Richard Schechner says, we may identify in performances the "recurrent theme" of 
"'provisionality,' the unsteadiness, slipperiness, porosity, unreliability, and ontological 
riskiness of the realities projected or created by playing." 36 There is a certain amount of 
"play" in the integral reality comprised of the coexistent realities of the dramatic and the 
quotidian worlds; because of this the ordinary, accepted, commonsensical world can be 
"toyed with" and alternatives "entertained." 37 Once this has happened, situations and 
structures which have been taken for granted in the ordinary world, the world of 
"common sense," are rendered contingent and questionable. 

This experience of imbalance or slipperiness due to the juxtaposition of dramatic 
and ordinary realities into a new reality can also be understood as a kind of liminal 
experience in which structures held to be rigidly fixed are felt as dissolved or broken 
down. Victor Turner describes those who undergo the experience of liminality as 

35 When Tom Driver speaks of performance as involving both "physical and mental, actual 
and imaginary," he, I believe, missing the integrity of both worlds and of their 
coexistence. Driver, Magic, 8 1 . 

36 Richard Schechner, The Future of Ritual (New York: Routledge, 1993), 39. 

37 It is fascinating to me how the English words in the quotation marks underline the 


"pass[ing] through a cultural realm that has few or none of the attributes of the past or 
coming state." 38 Although Turner's discussion of liminality is primarily directed towards 
ritual and especially to rites of passage, he points to what I am describing as the 
disorienting quality of the ontological complexity of any performance when he says, "... 
the most characteristic midliminal symbolism is that of paradox, or being both this and 
that." 39 

Whether what happens in the confrontation with the complex reality of a 
performance is described as a state of imbalance or of liminality, it is clear that it can be 
disorienting precisely because alternatives are presented as "here" and "now," and the 
existence of these alternatives can call into question the permanence and absolute-ness of 
the present state. In the case of radical performance, which by its nature intends to 
challenge and re-envision present reality, the ontological complexity of performance can 
clearly be a powerful tool. We can see this in the play about the couple threatened with 
the loss of their land: the dramatic reality embodies a situation in which Dalit solidarity 
breaks down the expected, the normal, the predictable, and introduces a "what if?" whose 
power will remain long after the play is over. 

Performance as Nondiscursive Communication 

,8 Victor Turner and Edith Turner, Image and Pilgrimage in Christian Culture (New 
York: Columbia University Press, 1978), 249. 

,9 Victor Turner, "Variations on a Theme of Liminality," in Secular Ritual ed. Sally F. 
Moore and Barbara Meyerhoff (Assen/Amsterdam: Van Gorcum, 1977), 37. 


We have looked at the ontological complexity which is an essential and powerful 
feature of performance. But there can be no layering of realities — no real embodying of 
alternatives — unless performers and audience are in communication with one another. A 
performance is a communication event. As we noted above, this communication involves 
self-aware performers, an audience, and a shared web of symbols, meanings, and 
conventions evoked by the complex processual embodiment which involves actors, 
movements, sounds and music, colors and shapes, rhythm and pace. It is the embodiment 
and the sharing of meanings which are crucial, and while this may involve 
words — dialogue or narration or lyrics — the words are only one facet of the whole 
performance. In other words, what is communicated between performers and audience 
within a performance is essentially nondiscursive communication. By this I mean that 
what is communicated cannot be wholly captured and expressed in concepts and 
true/false propositions, but must be to a large extent appropriated and understood through 
the body and the heart, sensuously, kinetically, and emotionally. The fact that 
performance is embodied, physical, means that it communicates through impact on the 
bodies of the audience (and performers) in the forms of emotions and sensations. 

In this section, I will look at three important dimensions of performance as 
nondiscursive communication: 1. the layering of dramatic on ordinary space and time 
resulting in the re-forming or "warping" of space-time for both the performers and the 
audience; 2. the existence of the "through-line," an interior dynamism which gives a felt 
unity to the performance as it moves from beginning to end, and 3. the use of symbols. 


Through each of these, meanings are communicated to and through the body, arousing 
emotions as well as evoking images and ideas. In order to make the discussion more 
concrete, I will look briefly at how each is exemplified in Mungai's play, The Newborn. 

Performance Space and Time 

The layering of dramatic upon quotidian space and time begins as soon as the 

performers arrive in the village. The performers, all dressed in red, begin playing hand 

drums and sing and dance their way, with more and more villagers accompanying them, 

to where they will do the play. During the procession they call the audience directly into 

their space (which is of course a moving space and therefore involves a different time 

with its own rhythm and pace) with their song: 

"Come with your beautiful eyes, 
Come with your attentive ears. ..." 

Like the Dalit play discussed above, the performance takes place in a more or less circular 

playing area defined by the actors. In this performance, though, the actors who are not 

performing the play stand or sit next to and among audience members rather than forming 

a circle between the playing area and the gathered audience as in the Dalit play. This 

apparently slight difference is actually quite significant in that the point of The Newborn 

is to rouse the villagers to actively confront the issue of female infanticide. The 

performance space created by the actors standing with the audience facing the play's 

action is a dramatic space which the actors can easily provoke the audience with 

questions and from which audience members themselves can question the dramatic action 


and even intervene in it. 

The rhythm and tempo of the play is made explicit by the accompaniment of 
drums. The play begins with two quick scenes of women holding babies. One newborn is 
a boy ("Hurray! Congratulations!," the actors on the sidelines call out), the other a girl 
("Oh, too bad, what a misfortune!"). Then the action slows so the audience can focus in 
on an argument between a pregnant wife and her husband about whether to have a sex 
determination test. Slowing down the tempo allows the actors in the scene time to draw 
the audience more fully into the acted-out decision-making and the actors on the sidelines 
to evoke and call out questions and comments from audience members. 

In this example, we can begin to see how the multilayering of a new and different 
space and time on ordinary space and time functions in the communication event which is 
the performance. The festive procession of the actors to the playing space is like a 
magnet, drawing the villagers in so that they may become an audience. Once at the 
playing area, the division of the actors into those performing the scenes and those 
standing among the crowd creates a space in which the dramatic action will permeate 
normal space and time, rather than substitute for it — the actors and audience will 
challenge each other about what is happening in the scenes. 

There is another dimension to the space in this performance. Mungai targeted this 
play especially to those villages where female infanticide is known to be relatively 
common. This means that the location of the performance was not neutral, but had a 
significance which contributed to the web of meanings communicated in the 



In this description of The Newborn we can discern several characteristics of how 
performance space and time function to communicate in a performance. First, dramatic 
space and time are bounded — the performance begins and ends, and occurs here and not 
there. This helps account for the felt intensity of a performance event. The Indian 
theologian Raimon Pannikkar has vividly characterized ritual space in a way which is 
applicable to all performance space and which aptly captures this character of intensity. 
For Pannikkar, performance space is akahsah, a Sanskrit term which comes "from a and 
kasate, to appear, shine, be brilliant. Akahsah would then be that which allows things to 
appear, to be known, and ultimately to be. Akahsah is that which makes possible that 
things reveal themselves. It is the 'place' of revelation . . . ." 40 Since space and time are 
intimately interwoven in performance, we can extend this description to time, as well, and 
say that in both the space and time of performance, "things reveal themselves." 

This characteristic has a particular potency with respect to Indian street theatre 
and radical performance in general. Among those things which are revealed in the 
performance space and time are alternatives to the societal structures that exist in the here 
and now. In radical performance, "what-is not-yet" comes to be and for the duration of the 
performance coexists with "what is." The present performance space and time contains 

40 Raimon Pannikkar, "There is No Outer Without Inner Space," in Concepts of Space 
Ancient and Modern ed. Kapila Vatsyayan (New Delhi: Abhinav Publications, 1991), 22. 


the past and future within it. The "not-yet" is not only hoped-for and imagined, but 
embodied, revealed in the akahsah of performance. 

Second, performance space and time are all at once "inner" and "outer," "internal" 
and "external." 41 In The Newborn, the space where the performance occurs is physical 
space in which objects are related at certain distances from each other and a space filled 
with emotions, meanings (including that this village is a place where the murders of 
female babies takes place), memories, and questionings. Analogously, the performance 
lasts for a particular duration of time, but it also speeds up, slows down, agitates, calms. 

The space and time of performance can be aptly described with a metaphor drawn 
from physics: performance space and time are not tidy Newtonian grids and flows in 
which identical elements are simply located and interacting externally with one another, 
but rather an Einsteinian space-time continuum which warps to conform to a mass of 
sounds, sights, intentions, emotions, meanings, memories, and hopes. It is this "warped" 
performance space-time which forms the communication which occurs in a performance. 
And much of this cannot be spoken, at least not in concepts, propositions, and arguments. 
The almost involuntary focussing of the senses on one part of the space, the framing and 
shaping of the physical space-time, the heightened sense of something being revealed or 
manifested, the complex of relationships among performers and audience within the 
space-time, the emotions evoked, the memories and significances brought into play — all 



of these are below and beyond discourse, and are essential to the very nature of 

The Through-Line 

Performance is processual — it unrolls, unravels, in and through time, and it has an 
interior dynamic unity which I will call, borrowing a term from Konstantin Stanislavski, 
its "through-line." Each segment or scene of the performance, besides having its own 
content and rhythm, plays its part in this dynamic whole. The through-line carries with it 
a host of moods, memories, and meanings for both performer and audience, and it is this 
(mostly) noncognitive "stuff which swells or contracts, quickens or slows the action, and 
bears us on to an ending which not only terminates the clock-time duration of the 
performance, but brings the through-line to a close which is apprehended as such by both 
performers and audience. The through-line is difficult to define, but it can be described 
metaphorically in a variety of ways: as, for example, a thread which holds the elements of 
the performance together, or as an "internal logic" or directed "flow" beneath the overt 

How can we describe the through-line, the dynamic unity in The Newborn! 
Briefly, we could say that it is the progressive shattering of the audience's unquestioned 
acceptance of beliefs about female infanticide — and even more basically, about the worth 
of women. It begins with the procession to the performing space, continues through 
Mungai's (a woman's) introduction of her troupe to the villagers, moves into staccato birth 


scenes broken into with questions and challenges from the audience, on to the close-up 
extended decision-making of the wife and husband, and culminates with the startling shift 
of the action from the actors to the audience in an open discussion of the issue and the 
departure of the performers. 

It is evident here how the aspect of performance which I am calling the through- 
line slips through attempts to capture it in words and concepts. It is very much like trying 
to describe the dynamic unity of a piece of music. In describing the "through-line" of a 
musical composition, I can point to certain structural features — motifs, changes in tempi 
and rhythms, key changes, shifts in instrumentation, variations on melodic themes — but 
while such a discussion may illuminate and sensitize the listener as to what is going on, it 
does not capture fully in words what is apprehended sensuously, viscerally. Similarly, the 
through-line of the kinds of performances we are discussing does not yield to expression 
in concepts; rather it is ultimately a processual unity which communicates primarily to the 
body and the heart, rather than the mind. 

Symbols in Performance 
We have spoken earlier about performance as necessarily — in order to be a 
communication event at all — occurring within a web of symbols and conventions shared 
by performers and observers. It is also necessary to recognize that symbols play a crucial 
role within performances. In any performance, some of the available symbols in a society 
are brought together, creatively "thrown together" (sym-bolein), to become the material 


of the performance. This use of symbols constitutes a third important way in which 
performances communicate nondiscursively, below or beyond the level of propositions or 

In The Newborn, the symbols are spare but potent: newborn baby and the gesture 
of cradling a baby; boy, girl; woman, man; mother, father. All of these are culturally and 
psychically loaded. They all evoke strong feelings, memories, anxieties, hopes, feelings of 
"rightness" or "wrongness" based on cultural constructions of gender and valuations of 
the worth of each gender. Herein lies the potency of the symbolic dimension of 
performance: a cloud of emotional, imagistic, and cognitive meanings is called forth by 
certain objects, gestures, characters. 

What is a symbol? A symbol is distinct from other signs in that the latter simply 
acts as an indicator. It points to something else different in nature from itself and has 
significance solely by virtue of that pointing. For example, a low mercury level on a 
thermometer indicates a particular measure of coolness. That is pretty much all it 
means — we glance at the thermometer to see how cold it is outside or whether a child has 
a fever, but we're not interested in the thermometer itself, just what it points to. As Avery 
Dulles says, "indicative signs lack intrinsic interest. We interpret them as mere observers, 
without being deeply moved by the signs themselves." 42 While symbols are physical, 
perceptible objects or actions, they also function as "clues" which "draw attention to 

42 Avery Dulles, S.J., Models of Revelation (Garden City, NY: Image Books, 1985), 132. 


themselves." 43 When the actress playing the mother in The Newborn mimes holding a girl 
baby in her arms, the members of the audience do not look beyond the baby to something 
different she in some sense points to but rather becomes aware of a multiplicity of 
emotions, memories, images, and ideas — what "female" means to men and to women, 
memories of murdered babies, fears that dowries will push them deeper into poverty, and 
on and on. 

As the audience focusses on the embodied symbol, the range of meanings it 
carries comes into play and becomes, in a sense, part of the performance. By "meanings" I 
do not mean primarily cognitive meanings, but even more importantly the emotions 
evoked by the symbols. Symbols have emotional weight or tone. As the theologian and 
liturgist Urban T. Holmes puts it, symbols "always engage us first as feeling." 44 

For Dulles, the relationship of a symbol to its meanings defines what a symbol is: 
"a sign pregnant with a plenitude of meaning which is evoked rather than explicitly 
stated." 45 As Dulles' definition implies, symbols are essentially multivalent, carrying an 
indefinite range of meanings, all of which are "true" or "appropriate." Holmes aptly 
remarks that each symbol "represents a 'fan' of denotations and connotations . . . ." 46 

The other face of multivalency is ambiguity. Symbols are never able to be fully 

43 Ibid. 

^Urban T. Holmes, "Liminality and Liturgy," Worship 47 (Aug.-Sept 1973), 390. 

45 Dulles, 132. 

46 Holmes, 390. 


pinned down and for this reason are obscure, mysterious, alluring, and dangerous. The 
most profound symbols are a bit like Alice in Wonderland's rabbit hole — it seems that 
one can fall down into their depths forever. The Indian artist and theologian Jyoti Sahi 
powerfully expresses this double aspect of multivalency and ambiguity when he writes, 
"The symbol has the power to create in the mind a sense of wonder. This term 'wonder' 
has two aspects. On the one hand, it is a questioning: 'I wonder what this means?' On the 
other hand, it is awe and reverence. The very questionableness of life is evoked by the 
symbol." 47 The Newborn plays on this ambiguity most profoundly with the symbol of the 
baby — it seems to evoke in the audience a range of complicated and contradictory 
emotions among which are anticipation, joy, protectiveness, anxiety, anger, and a host of 
nameless others shades of feelings — all coexisting and all called forth by the power of the 

Their physicality, emotional weight, multivalency, and ambiguity provide the 
conditions for another characteristic of symbols — they act upon us and lure us into them. 
As Dulles describes it: "We attend to [the symbols], and if we surrender to their power 
they carry us away ... to enter the world of meaning opened up by the symbol we must 
give ourselves; we must be not detached observers but engaged participants." 48 In The 
Newborn, the members of the audience are lured into the symbols of mother and baby, 

47 Sahi, Child, 89. 
48 Ibid., 133-4. 


man and woman, mother and father, and then, once they have become "engaged 
participants" in Dulles' sense, the play pushes them farther into engagement by 
challenging them to grapple directly with the issue of female infanticide. The multivalent, 
ambiguous, emotionally powerful symbols propel them into argument, opening them to 
confront one another with the question, "what are we doing?" 

In this section we have examined three ways in which the communication which 
goes on in performance between and among performers and audience is nondiscursive. 
We first looked at how the multilayering of a new and different space and time on 
ordinary space and time forms the communication event, conjoining "what is not" with 
"what is" in a space-time field teeming with meanings and possibilities. Then we saw 
how both performers and audience are carried through the performance by a dynamic 
unity, the through-line, which is played out in time and apprehended primarily by the 
body and the heart. And finally, we observed how symbols evoke an indefinite 
multiplicity of emotional, imagistic, and cognitive meanings, and in doing so draw us out 
of observation into participation. All of these work together in a performance to create an 
event in which a profound communication occurs which cannot be fully expressed in 
concepts or propositions, but which can transform the participants at levels below and 
beyond the cognitive. 

How are Performances Effective? 


In the simplest, most naive sense, we can say that a performance is effective if it 
produces a change. Defined so broadly, however, the concept of effectiveness is useless, 
since insofar as performance occurs at all, some changes must take place in the physical 
space where it happens and in the performers and observers. The performers exert an 
effort and the observers are moved to pleasure, or boredom, or dislike. How then can we 
tighten the notion of efficacy so that it will help us understand how performances can 
make significant changes in their participants? 

Richard Schechner has identified an "efficacy-entertainment braid" which twines 
through all performances ranging from what he calls "aesthetic theatre" — performances 
which are intended purely for entertainment — to ritual, which is, by its nature, effective. 
For Schechner, performances can be characterized on the basis of the relative weight of 
efficacy and entertainment. In morality plays, church services, court ceremonies, psycho- 
drama, and radical performance, the efficacy strand is predominant, in contrast to popular 
entertainments, bards and minstrels, circuses, fairs, and commercial theatre. 56 

Schechner speaks of entertainment-efficacy as entwined in a "braid" rather than 
separated as poles, because "ritual [the paradigm for Schechner of efficacious 
performance] and entertainment have always coexisted comfortably." 57 But how does 
Schechner draw the distinction between entertainment and efficacy, if some feelings of 

56 Schechner, Performative Circumstances, 149. 
57 Ibid. 


pleasure, joy, boredom, anger, etc. are inevitable "effects" of performance? For 
Schechner, the efficacy of a performance which is distinct from entertainment lies in a 
congruence between the content of the performance and the sort of change it produces; in 
Schechner's words, "The performance effects what it celebrates." 58 

Schechner is here identifying two important elements in the notion of the efficacy 
of performances: a. an efficacious performance produces more than an emotional change 
in the observers, and b. the change is related in some way to the content of the 
performance. By the content, I mean not only specific narratives, characters, and symbols 
that are enacted and invoked, but also the nature of the performance space, the rhythm 
and pacing, and the relationships among performers and between performers and 
observers. In the language developed in the last section of this paper, a performance is 
efficacious to the extent that it produces transformations in the participants and these 
transformations are in directions delimited by the space-time of the performance, the 
through-line and the symbolic content. 59 

In the Dalit village performance described above, for example, I believe it is fair 
to say that the performers were transformed by embodying the characters of the 
landowner, the foreman, and the Dalits who acted in solidarity with the couple being 

58 Ibid., 136. 

59 It is important to note that nothing in the notion of effective performance implies that 
the resulting transformations are necessarily emancipatory or "good" in any other sense. 
"Effective" performance is a morally neutral concept. 


threatened with the loss of their land. And at the same time, members of the audience 
were transformed by their encounter with the possibility made real in performance, the 
"not-yet," of cooperative action. 60 It is important to note that in order for it to be effective 
the transformations produced by a performance need not be (and probably will not be) 
massive. An actress in The Newborn remarked about the play that "if we can shake their 
beliefs, that is enough. It is like making ripples on the water." 61 

In Indian street theatre and other radical performances, it is possible to identify 
three kinds of efficacy: revelatory, constitutive, and operational. I will briefly discuss 
each of these. 

Revelatory Efficacy 
In this kind of efficacy the participants in the performance encounter an 
alternative mode of being or acting which is superior to current, everyday modes of being 
or acting. This encounter leads to an experience of tension between what is and what 
could be. For example, in another play performed by the REDS troupe in Dalit villages, 
the performers enact a situation in which field workers accost a landlord and demand a 

60 The significance of this kind of transformation in the Dalit community cannot be 
overdrawn. In a report analyzing the impact of the REDS organization (see above, 6) 
during the period from 1984 to 1994, it is pointed out that when REDS began "the 
predominant base level position was one of fatalism. The conditions of exploitation 

related to Dalits were perceived as God's will." Mohanraj, A Decade with People 

(Tumkur: REDS, 1995), 35. 


Mungai, The Newborn, video. 


fair wage from the him, an act which is dangerous because of the marginal economic 
situations of agricultural workers resulting in their need to have continuous work, the 
difficulty of accessing legal help, and the overwhelming power of the landlords in rural 

This performance exemplifies revelatory efficacy on several levels. First, the 
audience is able to see actions and hear words which embodies an alternative way of 
responding to landlords' oppression. Second, the fact that the performers are themselves 
Dalits acting the roles both of landlord and field workers is itself a "revelation" that these 
sorts of actions can be done by people like themselves. 

In terms of the discussion of performance earlier in this chapter, it is evident that 
the power for change of a performance with revelatory efficacy is made possible because 
of the ontological complexity of performance. I have argued that a performance event 
determines a new spatio-temporal reality and embodies new relationships and ways of 
acting, and that in performance these coexist with the ordinary, everyday space and time, 
relationships, and ways of acting. In this coexistence, a new, composite reality is formed. 
Given this, I would argue that the power for change comes from the fact that the 
alternatives, held in tension with the ordinary within the ontological complexity of the 
performance, are really present to both performers and observers for the duration of the 
performance. They are existentially encountered in the present. The tension lying in the 
discrepancy between what is and what-is-not-yet evokes emotions of longing and hope 
for change and a deeper antipathy to the present reality which has now been seen to be 



Constitutive Efficacy 
Indian street theatre performances and other radical performances may also have 
constitutive efficacy. By this I mean that performances may change the way the audience 
feels, thinks, and speaks about itself — the way it identifies itself. The Dalit village 
performances I described above is a clear example. They were framed from the point of 
view of the Dalits as an oppressed social group with a common heritage and common 
struggles. The performances shifted identity from individual families, sub-groups, or 
villages to a pan-national group of people united by being Dalits. In doing so, they 
strengthened the polarization of Dalits over against caste people, government officials, 
and others in power. Insofar, then, as a performance is constitutively effective with 
respect to identity, the audience will leave the performance with a more defined sense of 
who they are as members of a boundaried social group, and correlative with that, a more 
sharply delineated sense of who is "other," "not-us"of actions and relationships and these 
new understandings may then come to be applied to actions and relationships in the world 
outside the performance. 

Operational Efficacy 
Operational efficacy leads the audience members to make changes in the world 
outside the performance. Indian street theatre, like other radical performance, is 
concerned primarily to impel changes in power relationships and in the understanding of 


"right behavior." 

Power relationships. The definition of radical performance which I am using in this 
paper, i.e., performances that confront and re-envision ingrained social arrangements of 
power, places issues of power firmly at the center of attention. As radical performance, 
Indian street theatre by its very nature seeks to move the observer into an oppositional 
relationship to existing power structures. The observer is intended to move from 
acceptance or ignorance of those structures to a posture of active opposition or perhaps to 
a weaker form of non-participation. At any rate, the intent of the performance is at the 
very least to disorient and make problematic the audience's relationships to the power 
structures that exist, after they leave the performance. To quote again the actress in 
Mungai's "Voicing Silence" troupe, one part of the efficacy of radical performance is to 
"make ripples in the water," ripples which keep expanding beyond the duration of the 

"Right behavior. " The liturgical theologian Theodore W. Jennings has proposed that 
rituals help establish the criteria for what counts as "right behavior" outside the ritual 
setting. "The performance of ritual," he says, ". . . teaches one not only how to conduct 
the ritual itself, but how to conduct oneself outside the ritual space." 62 But do radical 
performances have this kind of operational efficacy? Do they lead to a change in what is 
approved of and striven for as "right behavior." Looking once again at the Dalit 

62 Theodore W. Jennings, Jr., "On Ritual Knowledge" (Journal of Religion 62 (2): 324- 
334), 329. 


performance about the field workers and the landlord mentioned above, the act of the 
workers in standing up to the landlord and demanding a fair wage does, I think, become a 
model of their future actions in actual situations with their landlords. This is not to be 
simplistic and say that actions will change — the dangers of losing their jobs or being 
punished with violence are very real. Yet through the ontological complexity of the 
performance, this kind of response has taken on a reality it may not have had before, and 
it may help lead to discerning and then creating conditions which would make that 
response possible. 

Another way in which a performance can be effective toward "right action" in the 
world lies in what happens to the body of the performer as he/she performs. In the Dalit 
performances, the actors who played the landlords or other dominant characters took on 
the stance and vocal mannerisms of those sorts of people as seen through the eyes of 
those they oppress. More significantly, perhaps, the actors who played those Dalits who 
resisted the landlord's injustices also had to find a new way of holding themselves, 
moving, and speaking. In doing so, they were "rehearsing liberation." Michael Ross and 
Mamunur Rashid, who have been active in radical theatre movements in Asia and Africa 
have observed that in the "experience of participation, interaction, and self- 
expression.... the people overcome their fears and develop a sense of their own identity, 
self-confidence, and class-consciousness (thus showing that people can 'act,' can change 


things both on stage and in real life). 


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In this section, we have looked at the notion of "efficacious performance." We 
have seen that a performance is efficacious to the extent that it produces transformations 
in the participants in directions delimited by the space-time of the performance, the 
through-line and the symbolic content. We have identified three major kinds of ways in 
which performances are effective — revelatory efficacy, in which the audience encounters 
embodied alternatives to existing social structures; constitutive efficacy, in which 
participants in the performance come to a new sense of identity; and operational efficacy, 
in which people are moved to transform power structures and redefine what it means to 
act rightly in the world outside the performance event. In these ways Indian street theatre 
and other radical performances transform performers and members of the audience and 
move them towards transformation of the world beyond the performance. But what is the 
goal of this transformative work? In the final section of this chapter I will attempt to 
define in what sense an effective performance may be identified as emancipatory. 

Emancipatory Performance 
Jan Cohen-Cruz points out that radical performances, defined as performances 
which "question or re-envision ingrained social arrangements of power," must include 

63 Ross Kidd and Mamunur Rashid, 62. 


Third Reich rallies and Ku Klux Klan marches. 64 These performance events possess 
revelatory efficacy in that they enact a spectacle of white power to observers. They are 
constitutively effective in forming an identity over against others, in challenging existing 
power structures, and in forming the bodies of the participants in stances of challenge, 
dominance, and hostility. Further, those performing them may well describe what they are 
doing using the language of emancipation. A young while male spectator of a Ku Klux 
Klan rally might say something like: "We whites have got to take what's rightly ours." 
Much of the rhetoric in rallies of the Third Reich promised "emancipation" for Aryans 
from the power and control of Jews and others. The originators and supporters of Third 
Reich and Ku Klux Klan performances, then, could very well use the language of 
emancipation and to advocate freedom from invidious (to them) power structures. Is there 
a definition of "emancipatory performance" which will exclude such performances while 
including the Indian street theatre performances we have been considering? 

I want to suggest that "emancipatory performances" may be defined as 
performances which lead to deeper and fuller humanity for some, without compromising 
the essential humanity of others. This definition derives from the work of Paolo Freire 
who speaks of "humanization" as "man's vocation . . . thwarted by injustice, exploitation, 
oppression, and the violence of the oppressors; . . . affirmed by the yearning of the 

^Cohen-Cruz, 2. 


oppressed for freedom and justice, and by their struggle to recover their lost humanity." 65 
A similar account of the meaning of emancipation/liberation is found in the work of some 
Christian liberation theologians, especially those from Asia who are working in a 
predominately nonChristian context. The Taiwanese theologian C.S. Song, for example, 
has given a description of the task which he understands as the missio Dei, a divine call 
not only to Christians but to all people concerned with justice and right relationship, in 
terms of fully humanity: "What is at stake is the question of how human beings can 
remain human. It is also a question of how their frightened, tired and withered bodies, 
minds and hearts can rise from resignation to determination, from despair to hope, and 
from death to life . . . ." 66 The goal, continues Song, is "a human community in which the 
forces of love, justice and peace may prevail over the powers of hate, oppression and 
inhumanity." 67 The Indian Jesuit theologian Samuel Kappen defines the kingdom of God 
as "on the one hand, the liberation of man from every alienation, i.e., from everything that 
renders him other than what he ought to be, and on the other, the full flowering of the 
human on our planet. In other words, it is not only freedom from, but also freedom 
for — freedom for creativity, community, and love." 68 

65 Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (New York: Continuum, 1986), 28. 

66 C.S. Song, "An Asian View of Mission" in Christian Mission, Jewish Mission, ed. 
Martin A. Cohen and Helga Croner (New York: Paulist Press, 1982), 185. 

67 Ibid., 185. 

68 Sebastian Kappen, Jesus and Freedom (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1977), 56. 


The second part of the definition of 'emancipatory' offered above — "without 
compromising the essential humanity of others" — is crucial to exclude the instances of 
the paradigmatic non -emancipatory performances cited above — of the Ku Klux Klan and 
the Third Reich. Freire makes this point as well: "In order for this struggle to have 
meaning, the oppressed must not, in seeking to regain their humanity . . . , become in turn 
oppressors of the oppressors, but rather restorers of the humanity of both." 69 

What, though, is meant by the idea of "humanity" and "humanization"? It will be 
assumed here that it ranges over all of the conditions of human life, including a. basic 
survival needs — food, safe water, shelter, land, freedom from violence; b. a sense of 
identity both as belonging to a community and as an individual; c. knowledge of what is 
real, including knowledge of social conditions and prevailing power dynamics; d. a sense 
of agency, of being empowered to act and make changes in the world, and e. a relationship 
with a transcendent presence or ideal which is beyond the here-and-now, not "owned" by 
the present moment. Different radical performances may emphasize one or another of 
these levels of being human. The Dalit performances we have been looking at explicitly 
include the first two and the fourth, the sense of agency (although in a sense they at least 
imply the third and sixth). 

A final point must be made. Every emancipatory performance is emancipatory for 
some people from some state of affairs which has been in some way disempowering and 

69 Freire, 28. 


dehumanizing for them. Expressed in this way, it may appear that an emancipatory 
performance may only be for the oppressed members of a given society from their 
oppression by a dominant group. In the example of the Dalit performances, the intent was 
to enable the observers: first, to begin to understand how their specific conditions result 
from interwoven religious, class, and economic structures; second, to identify themselves 
explicitly as Dalits with pride and a sense of unity, and third, to envision ways of 
meliorating their situation. 

On the other hand, some emancipatory performances are primarily directed to 
members of dominant groups who are dehumanized by failing to acknowledge their 
interrelationships with others. A good example of this occurred in a radical performance 
in Belgrade in April, 1993, the first anniversary of the beginning of the war in Bosnia. 
Demonstrators gathered on the main street in Belgrade. Covering themselves with a piece 
of black fabric which spanned the entire length of the street, they become a living "ribbon 
of mourning." 70 This performance was directed primarily to the dominant group of 
Serbian politicians and the citizens who supported the war. The intent was to witness to 
the fact of death in Bosnia and to manifest resistance — to force the fact of dying soldiers 
and civilians upon those who chose not to see and to bring awareness of the consequences 
of the war to those who glorified it. This was an example of emancipatory performance 
addressed to the dominant in an attempt to deepen their humanity by confronting them 

70 Knezevic, "Women in Black," Radical Street Performance, 58-9. 


with knowledge which they would want to resist and evoking an emotional response of 
sorrow and anger through the manipulation of the a traditional symbol of mourning, the 
black ribbon. The performance confronted observers who were active or at least complicit 
by their silence to a fuller humanity in the sense of increased cognitive and emotional 
awareness of a present reality. 

This discussion of "emancipatory performance" has led to the following 
conclusions: First, the nature of the transformation achieved through an emancipatory 
performance is to deepen or enrich the humanity of the participants without 
compromising the essential humanity of others. Second, the "humanization" which results 
ranges over the whole span of human faculties and needs, from material to spiritual. And 
third, an emancipatory performance may achieve its effect for members of both 
subordinate and dominant groups. 

In this chapter, we have looked extensively at performance and radical 
performance as exemplified by Indian street theatre. We have defined ways in which a 
performance can be efficacious and suggested an understanding of what it means for an 
effective performance to be emancipatory. It is the primary thesis of this chapter that the 
capacity of performance to be effective and emancipatory arises out of the very nature of 

First, performance is an embodied, processual event in which communication 
takes place below and beyond the cognitive level through the "warping" of space and 


time, the dynamic unity or through-line, and the use of symbols. The physicality of 
performance and its capacity for nondiscursive communication allow it to be effective. It 
is face-to-face, body-to-body communication and it is because of these powerful qualities 
of immediacy and presence — of touch, movement, interaction; of being drawn into the 
symbols, carried by the flow, present in the rich warping of space and time — that 
transformations of emotions, beliefs, bodies, relationships may occur. 

Second, performance creates a situation of ontological complexity, a kind of 
reality in which the ordinary space and time world within which the performance is 
played coexists with a different world, a not-here and not-now which yet is here and now. 
This has two crucial implications for the capacity of performance to be effective and 
emancipatory. First, the world created or invoked by the performance actually embodies 
alternatives to the factual world. It exists — it can be felt, looked at, heard, entered into 
physically or empathetically. In performances, alternative realities come to life. 71 

Second, the ontological complexity of performance provides the conditions for 
looseness, slippage, risk, imbalance relative to what is accepted as given in ordinary, 
unexamined existence. To shift the images a bit, Turner's analysis of liminality involves 
the notion of "anti-structure," of breaking down the normal structures of life. He describes 
the liminal state in a variety of metaphors: threshold, corridor, tunnel, pilgrim's road, all 

7l It should be made clear that these enacted alternatives do not have to have either full- 
fledged plots or pose clear-cut options. Even the suggestion of an alternative becomes 
integrated into this new reality. 


of which express the sense of going away from the normal, crossing over, leaving 
behind. 72 Because they create conditions under which participants (including observers) 
can slip out of or turn away from the accepted conditions of life, performances can effect 

Indian street theatre, using these intrinsic characteristics of performance, aims at 
transformation in the direction of emancipation. It opposes prevailing social structures 
while embodying an alternative which opens a fuller human life; it is powerfully driven 
by anger and yearning, suffering and hope, memory and vision. In addition, it goes where 
the people are. It is performed/or and sometimes by the people (the janam, the masses, 
the oppressed), most usually in the places where suffering and oppression go on, although 
sometimes in the sites of power. Street theatre is a pilgrim theatre, always on the road, 
travelling wherever the power of performance can be used for emancipation. 

72 Victor Turner, "Variations," 37. 



The ritual of Eucharist lies at the heart of Christian liturgical practice. This is 
certainly so for the Episcopal Church. According to the Episcopal Outline of Faith, or 
Catechism, it is one of the "two great sacraments given by Christ to his Church" 73 And 
since the issuing of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, the Eucharist has been considered 
"the principle act of Christian worship on the Lord's Day and other major Feasts" (BCP, 

™The Book of Common Prayer (New York: The Seabury Press, 1979), 858. All further 
references will be cited in the text. 


The Eucharistic ritual is presumed to be effective, to cause transformation in its 
participants. In Article XXV of the Anglican Articles of Religion, this is made quite 
clear: "Sacraments . . .[are] certain sure witnesses, and effectual signs of grace, and God's 
good will towards us, by the which he doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only 
quicken, but also strengthen and confirm our Faith in him" (BCP, 872). The 1979 
Catechism spells out the fruits of God's work, the "benefits" of the Eucharist, as "the 
forgiveness of our sins, the strengthening of our union with Christ and one another, and 
the foretaste of the heavenly banquet which is our nourishment in eternal life" (BCP, 

It is not my concern here to deal with the theological questions underlying these 
assertions about the efficacy of the Eucharistic ritual. My concern is with sacramental 
rituals as performances, as communication events involving God and the worshipping 
community. I want to question to what extent the way in which the ritual is performed 
effectively communicates God's salvific action to the community gathered in worship. I 
believe that God's action may be mediated and communicated more or less effectively by 
different ways of performing the Eucharist. 

In addressing these questions, I want to hold up Indian street theatre as a paradigm 
of effective performance which aims towards emancipation. I hope that doing so may 
provide a fresh, even a "radical" vision, of how Eucharistic ritual can mediate and 
communicate the transformation of the participants and their relationships to each other 
and to the world outside the ritual. 


Ritual as Performance 
In understanding ritual to be a kind of performance, I am following the lead of 
anthropologist Victor Turner and others who have contributed to a remarkable body of 
work in ritual studies since the middle of this century. We will be looking in this section 
at the characteristics rituals share with all performances, as well as the ways they 
constitute a distinctive group of performances. In structuring this discussion I will be 
following more or less the order in which I explicated the notion of performance in 
Chapter 1. 

1 . Ritual is a complex, embodied action in space and time. Turner describes ritual as 
"essentially performance, enactment," 14 which involves, "at least in simpler societies . . . 
an orchestration of symbolic actions and objects in all the sensory codes — visual, 
auditory, kinesthetic, olfactory, gustatory — full of music and dancing and with interludes 
of play and entertainment." 75 This rich intermingling of bodies, movements, space, 
colors, pace and rhythm is, as we saw in Chapter 1, one mark of performance in general. 76 

2. Ritual, like all other performances, is a communication event, although the ways that 
this "plays out" differ from other kinds of performance in certain respects. 

a. In many kinds of performance, like Indian street theatre, some of the 

74 Turner, From Ritual to Theatre, 79. 

75 Ibid. 

76 See above, 14. 


participants in the performance event are performers while others are audience. 
Communication goes on between and among them, but their roles in the performance 
situation are distinct. In ritual, on the other hand, the performer-audience relationship is 
either absent or minimal; rather, all are participants. Turner describes ritual as having a 
"congregation" with leaders and non-leaders, who "all share formally and substantively 
the same set of beliefs and accept the same system of practices, the same sets of rituals or 
liturgical actions." 77 In addition, the participants in a ritual carry out their roles 
deliberately, not in pure S spontaneous behavior but "self-consciously 'acted' like a part in 
a play." 78 

It is important to make the additional point that in religious rituals the 
divine — God or the gods — is treated as a participant. Christopher Irvine puts this 
explicitly in the language of performance when he says about the Eucharist, "God is the 
principle, albeit hidden actor in the ritual performance." 79 

b. Ritual, like other performances, occurs within a particular system of symbols, 
meanings, and conventions, shared by the participants. For Turner, ritual is "prescribed 
formal behavior," 80 assuming and expressing a system of symbols and conventions, and 

77 Turner, From Ritual to Theatre, 109. 

78 Sally F. Moore and Barbara Myerhoff, "Secular Ritual: Forms and Meanings" in Secular 
Ritual, 1 . 

79 Christopher Irvine, "Celebrating the Eucharist: A Rite Performance," Theology 97 (July- 
Aug. 1994) : 263. 

80 Ibid. 


performed self-consciously (i.e., according to rules or rubrics). David I. Kertzer, who 
extends the notion of ritual beyond explicitly religious situations into the secular realm, 
defines ritual as "symbolic behavior that is socially standardized and repetitive." 81 In 
ritual, participants are caught up in the ritual action through their participation in the "web 
of symbolism" 82 which surrounds it. It is also a web of communication in which 

can be changed: "ritual works through the senses to structure our sense of reality and our 
understanding of the world around us." 83 

With respect to conventions, meanings, and symbols, however, rituals differ from 
other performances in the degree of gravity or weight they carry within a particular social 
world. It is important to participate in the rituals and to participate "properly," i.e., be the 
people warranted to perform the ritual or its parts, do the right actions and say the right 
words in the right order, wear the proper garments, etc. Turner notes that the stakes are 
often high for those in the society who choose not to participate — unlike most 
performances, in which non-attendance is merely a simple act of preferring some other 
activity, "in ritual, stay-away means rejecting the congregation — or being rejected by it, as 

8 'David I. Kertzer, Ritual, Politics, and Power (New Haven: Yale University Press, 
1988), 9. 

82 Ibid. 

83 Ibid., 10. 


in excommunication, ostracism, or exile." 84 

There are various ways of understanding the social weight of ritual. Some 
theorists understand it noetically, in terms of knowledge or belief. Kertzer, for example, 
asserts that "Through ritual, beliefs about the universe come to be acquired, reinforced, 
and eventually changed." 85 For Emile Durkheim, a founder of ritual studies, what is 
important about rituals is "that they provide a powerful way in which people's social 
dependence can be expressed." 86 

c. As performances, rituals are often repeated over and over at appointed times and 
places, and include repetitive words and gestures. These two characteristics of ritual 
performances are, I suspect, related to the weight, the solemnity, they bear in society. 
Theorists vary in the stress they put on repetitiveness in either sense as essential to ritual. 
The Eastern European social theorist Zdzislaw Mach expresses perhaps the most extreme 
rigorist view of intra-ritual repetitiveness: a ritual has a rigid formal structure which 
"organizes the symbolic action into a pattern where every development of events is 
predetermined. Ideally, ritual as repetitive action should be repeated in exactly the same 
form." 87 On the opposite extreme are contemporary "one-shot" rituals created for specific 

84 Ibid., 112. 

85 Kertzer, 9. 

86 Cited in ibid. 

87 Zdzislaw Mach, Symbols, Conflict, and Identity (Albany: State University of New York 
Press, 1993), 73. 


occasions, especially from counter-cultural or semi-therapeutic perspectives. 88 1 believe 
that "ritual" can properly be applied across the range of repetition-spontaneity, if 
performances have such weight that they are identified by the participants as rituals. I also 
agree with Turner that because ritual is essentially performance enacted by individuals in 
space and time, novelty can crop up even in tightly ruled and repetitive rituals: "...the 
rules may 'frame' the performance, but the 'flow' of action and interaction within that 
frame may conduce to hitherto unprecedented insights and even generate new symbols 
and meanings, which may be incorporated into subsequent performances." 89 

In this section, we have looked at rituals as performances. We have noted that like 
other performances they are processual enactments in space and time, they are enveloped 
and shot through with symbol and convention, and they involve self-conscious 
participants. We have also seen that rituals are distinctive from other performances in a 
number of factors — a. there is no performer-audience distinction; rather, all are 
participants although there may be a division into leaders and non-leaders; b. rituals are 
accorded particular "weight" or seriousness within a social group; and c. they are usually 
repeated and repetitive in form or content or both. Eucharistic rituals, our particular focus 

1 There are a number of guidebooks to the creation of such rituals, e.g.. There are a 
number of guidebooks to the creation of such rituals, e.g.. Renee Beck and Sydney 
Barbara Metrick, The Art of Ritual: A Guide to Creating and Performing Your Own 
Rituals for Growth and Change (Berkeley: Celestial Arts, 1990). 

89 Turner, From Ritual, 79. 


in this chapter, certainly manifests these features of ritual performance. However, before 
moving on to a close study of one particular Eucharistic ritual — Rite II from the 1979 
Book of Common Prayer, I want to compare ritual with other performances with respect 
to the ways it communicates nondiscursively, how it manifests ontological complexity, 
and in what ways it is efficacious. 

Ritual Performances as Nondiscursive Communication 
In Chapter 1 , we explored performance as a kind of communication which takes 
place below and beyond discourse and argument. We saw that in a performance event, 
participants become located in a multilayered or "warped" space and time created by the 
performance; they are carried along by a through-line; and they are drawn into a 
participatory encounter with symbols. How do these essential aspects of performance 
manifest themselves in ritual? 

Ritual Space and Time 
In religious ritual, for example, the performance space is sacred space. It is in 
some sense "holy," set apart from quotidian space at least for the duration of the ritual: 
"An enclosure is identified physically or conceptually for the time and duration of the 
event .... Terrestrial space is transformed to 'celestial space' and the 'microcosm' 
signifies the 


'macrocosm.'" 90 There may be specific reasons for identifying a particular space as sacred. 
It may, for example, be associated in cultural memory with a holy person or event. Or the 
place itself may be felt by people in a particular culture to possess a numinous quality. 
The Indian theorist Baidyanath Saraswati has noted that in some cultures the whole earth 
may be sacred, but often "some places are more sacred — effective — than others, and 
hence fit for ritual performance." 91 Or, alternatively, a neutral space is chosen and 
rendered sacred by a ritualistic action like sacrifice. 92 And of course ritual may be 
performed in a permanent location, a temple, mosque, church, or synagogue, in which the 
space is permanently formed by architecture and by the placement of ritual objects. 

Ritual time is complex time, in which the flow of present time is interwoven with 
other kinds of durations. A clear example is the Christian liturgical year, in which the 
story of Christ's birth, life, death, unfolds itself over the course of the calendar year. One 
"layer" of performance time in the Eucharistic liturgy is the playing out of this sequence, 
bringing it into actuality through the Gospel readings. The ongoing (in memory as evoked 
by the readings) life of Jesus becomes a temporal counterpoint to both the repetitive 
actions of the liturgy and the particular lives of the worshippers. Within the ritual, also, 

^Kapil Vatsyayan, "Performance: The Process, Manifestation, and Experience," in 
Concepts of Space Ancient and Modern ed. Kapila Vatsyayan (New Delhi: Abhinav 
Publications, 1991), 381. 

91 Baidyanath Saraswati, "Ritual Space (Tribal-Nontribal Context)," in Concepts of Space, 


92 Ibid., 360. 


memories of pivotal occurrences are invoked to add meanings and emotions evoked by 
them to the present event. In the Baptismal ritual, for example, the celebrant offers a 
prayer of thanksgiving for the gift of water: "Over it the Holy Spirit moved in the 
beginning of creation. Through it you led the children of Israel out of their bondage in 
Egypt into the land of promise. In it your Son Jesus received the baptism of John and was 
anointed by the Holy Spirit as the Messiah ..." (BCP, 306). 

Ritual space-time, then, like the space-time of other performances, is internal and 
external, physical and teeming with emotions, meanings, memories. It is akahsah, the 
place and time in which things come to be and are revealed. 93 In analyzing and evaluating 
a ritual, it is crucial to look closely at how it forms space and time as well as the content 
of what comes to be revealed. 

The Through-line 
When we looked at the through-line of The Newborn, we saw how difficult it is to 
conceptualize the through-line even of a performance based more or less directly on a on 
a plot or narrative. Rituals tend to have more obscure through-lines which do not get their 
primary coherence from a narrative. The through-line may be felt as a dynamic whole, but 
may be difficult to express in words at all. Different participants or observers, from 
within the same culture or even the same worshipping community, may give different 
accounts of the nature of the underlying "internal logic" or flow of the performance. Yet 

93 See above, 30. 


there is a felt coherence experienced by both performers and observers. The dynamic 
could be expressed metaphorically as like stepping into a stream and letting the water 
take them. The water flows more slowly in some parts, more quickly in others, there are 
eddies and there are white water rapids. The participants are carried along by a dynamic 
to which they assent and yield by entering the ritual space and time. 

However, in the absence of a unifying plot, it is possible for rituals to have less 
than adequate through-lines. For example, the different "scenes" of the rituals may feel 
disconnected and discrete, as if they were simply placed together one after another 
without a unifying dynamic. We will find that the coherence of the through-line can 
function as a critical principle for evaluating performances, especially ritual 

Symbols in Ritual Performance 
Rituals make use of symbols which have particular depth within a culture. This 
close relationship between ritual and deep symbolic content is related to the social weight 
borne by ritual. 94 Moreover, the symbols which lie at the heart of a religious ritual — the 

94 Interestingly, even newly minted rituals attempt to embody deep symbolic content 
which both signifies and helps establish the weight of the performance. In Beck and Metrick's 
ritual workbook, for example, Guideline #2 says, "Let the myth inspire you .... A ritual 
admits you to sacred time and space, into the archetypal realm of myth and mystery. You 
might choose to research myths and fairy tales with the same theme as the ritual you are 
planning, or explore how other cultures have realized intentions similar to yours 
Beck and Metrick, 88. 


water of Baptism, the lighting of the new fire at the Easter Vigil — are considered to have 
a privileged relationship to the divine. The Russian Orthodox theologian Alexander 
Schmemann expresses this view when he says that in a religious symbol the empirical 
and the spiritual are united "epiphanically": "one reality manifests ( 7ri(pavoo) and 
communicates the other but — and this is immensely important — only to the degree to 
which the symbol itself is a participant in the spiritual reality and is able or called upon to 
manifest it." 95 

In our discussion of the symbolic aspect of performance, we spoke about symbols 
in performances as physically realized, multivalent, ambiguous, and having the power to 
lure us or, in Avery Dulles' words, to "carry us away." 96 The assumption of a connection 
of ritual symbols with the divine or the spiritual means that in being "carried away," the 
ritual participant is being drawn into the realm of the divine. Understanding the symbols 
used in ritual as epiphanic, in some way opening a way into the divine, marks a 
distinguishing characteristic of ritual over against other kinds of performances, including 
street theatre. In the creation of the latter, symbols are "thrown together," woven together 
in a dynamic unity in order to effect transformation towards emancipation. The symbols 

95 Alexander Schmemann, The Eucharist: Sacrament of the Kingdom. (Crestwood, NY: 
St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1988), 39. 

96 See above, 36. 


are chosen for pragmatic reasons (and possibly for aesthetic reasons as well). We have 
looked, for example, at Mungai's play on female infanticide. The playwright and director 
Pralayan also produced a play on female infanticide, whose climactic symbolic gesture 
was a faithful daughter lighting her father's funeral pyre. 97 Each playwright approached 
the same issue with the same basic intent, and chose quite different symbolic material. In 
contrast, in ritual performances at least the primary symbols are given by the foundational 
religious stories or beliefs in a culture. Bread and wine, for example, are at the heart of 
the Eucharistic ritual — in a sense, particular ritual enactments of the Eucharist are 
constructed around them. 

Symbols, since they are crucial to the way ritual performances communicate to the 
participants, provide a third lens (with ritual space-time and the through-line) through 
which to examine rituals critically. It is possible to evaluate a ritual's communicative 
power by determining what symbols are present and how they are being used. 

In this section we have considered ritual performance as nondiscursive 
communication, experienced by the ritual's participants in the layering of sacred space 
and time on ordinary space and time, the dynamic unity of the through-line, and the 
ephiphanic character of ritual symbols. We have also come to see that ritual space and 
time, the through-line, and symbolic content can act as tools for critical reflection on 

97 Pralayan, interview by author, Chennai (Madras), India, 18 July 1998. 


particular rituals, and I will use them as such in my discussion of Eucharistic rituals in the 
final sections of this paper. 

Ritual Performance and Ontological Complexity 
The discussion of the symbolic dimension of ritual performance hints at the way 
that the ontological complexity of rituals differs from that of other performances. In 
Chapter 1, 1 argued that a new, integral reality comes into being with the layering of 
dramatic space and time upon daily space and time, of assumed character upon ordinary 
identity, and of new patterns of relationship upon normal patterns, and that in this new 
reality lies much of the capacity of performance to effect change. 98 

In ritual performance, the "dramatic" space and time, characters, and patterns of 
relationship are apprehended by participants in the ritual as having an independent 
existence outside their manifestation in the ritual. I use the word 'manifestation' 
deliberately — what comes to coexist with ordinary space and time, identity, and 
relationship in a ritual already is, in fact usually is conceived to be in a highly valuative 
sense. For some reason this other reality is not always evident, but comes to be revealed 
in the complex whole of the performance. 

As an example let us look briefly at the Christian rite of Baptism. Here is a 
dramatic space and time in which "Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness" (BCP, 
302) are active and the baptismal candidates reject them and turn from them to Jesus 

98 See above, 24-26. 


Christ, promising "to follow and obey him as your Lord" (BCP, 303). With the baptism 
their sins are forgiven by God and they are "raise[d] to a new life of grace" and "marked 
as Christ's own forever" (BCP 308). These are cosmic events — and yet they occur on a 
normal Sunday mornings, in the local church. And the newly baptized themselves are 
both their quotidian, structured selves — Robert, a red-faced six-month old, Jane who 
clerks in the Walmart — and new members of the "household of God" (BCP, 308). The 
other participants are friends, relatives, strangers — and sharers "in [God's] eternal 
priesthood" (ibid.), who have committed themselves to a covenantal relationship with 
God which involves certain ways of behaving as affirmed in the Baptismal Covenant. 

The point I want to make here is that in the ontological complexity of the 
Baptismal ritual for Christians the dramatic reality which coexists with daily reality for 
the duration of the ritual is believed to exist independently beyond the performance. This 
is true of ritual in general, and it can intensify the disorientation which is one aspect of 
the liminality experience in ritual performance. Earlier I spoke of the power of the 
ontological complexity of performance to render contingent and question or challenge 
situations and structures which have been taken for granted in the daily world. Urban 
Holmes describes this state of "anti-structure" in this way: "In a liminal existence, those 
things in the structures that define life have been left behind. By this I mean anything 
from job descriptions, signs of rank, or bureaucratic or organizational charts, to formal, 


operational logic, rubrics, and canon law." 99 

In ritual, the belief in the independent, ongoing existence of the dramatic reality, 
has two consequences. First, this reality provides a kind of guarantee for the actions, 
commitments, and ways of life undertaken by participants within the ritual and beyond. In 
the language of the Baptismal ritual this is conveyed by a shift in grammatical mood from 
the subjunctive and imperative: ". . . sanctify this water, we pray you, by the power of 
your Holy Spirit, that those who here are cleansed from sin . . . may continue forever in 
the risen life of Jesus Christ ..." (BCP, 307), to the indicative : ". . . we thank you . . . 
that you have bestowed upon these your servants the forgiveness of sin, and have raised 
them to the new life of grace" (BCP, 308). What has been performed in the ritual has 
been (really) done by the power of the divine. 

Second, the assumption of the independent reality which is manifested in a ritual 
(as well as social weight of ritual) can contribute towards rituals functioning as 
conservative forces in society. Zdzislaw Mach believes that the symbolic structure in a 
ritual "confines and maintains social order by creating a model for reality," a model "not 
only seen and heard, but [which] acts it out, makes the image of it and thus they can live 
out the order which ritual postulates." 100 The freedom of creative theatre activists like 
Mungai and Pralayan to pose alternatives and explore new possibilities is not shared, at 

"Holmes, 389. 
100 Mach, 8. 


least not to the same extent, by those who work with religious rituals. 

The Efficacy of Ritual Petformances 
In the discussion in Chapter 1, we adopted Richard Schechner's definition of the 
efficacy of performance as the "congruence between the content of the performance and 
the sort of change it produces." 101 We identified in Indian street theatre and other radical 
performances three modes of efficacy — revelatory, in which the audience encounters 
embodied alternatives to existing social structures; constitutive, in which participants in 
the performance come to a new sense of their identity, and operational, in which people 
are moved to transform power structures and redefine what it means to act rightly in the 
world outside the performance event. Rituals are effective in all of these modes. 

Ritual and Revelatory Efficacy 
In the last section we saw that rituals are considered by the participants in them to 
reveal, in a literal sense, a persistent reality independent of quotidian life. Rituals open up 
and embody this realm, and in doing so create a situation of anti-structure within which 
the "ordinary" can be judged. In the Baptismal ritual the confrontation of the divine 
reality with the conditions of daily life is evident in the questions asked of the questions 
before baptism, especially: "Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt 
and destroy the creatures of God?" and "Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you 

101 Schechner, Performative Circumstances, 136. 


from the love of God?" (BCP, 302). 

Taking account of Mach's observation about the tendency of ritual to conserve 
social values, I want to observe that the revelatory efficacy of a ritual, while always 
raising the possibility of judging existing social structures, may not reveal possibilities 
that are radically new. The divine paradigm may indeed function conservatively. On the 
other hand, I believe that it is possible that in a ritual performance, truly radical 
possibilities may be revealed. Drawing again on the example of the baptismal ritual in the 
1979 Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, the candidates promise to "seek and serve 
Christ in all persons ..." (BCP, 305), a vision of a life of service that clearly goes against 
the grain of the structures of domination and exclusion in the society at large. 

Ritual and Constitutive Efficacy 
Zdzislaw Mach has detailed the intimate link between ritual and the formation of 
identity. For Mach, the boundaries of group identity are created through symbolic action, 
and especially through ritual: "Boundaries created in the process of building a group's 
identity are of a symbolic nature. Historical myth . . ., ritual . . . , art . . .serve both as the 
content of an image of self and others, and as a symbolic substance [?] with which 
differences are defined and emphasized." 102 Rituals, he goes on to say, "owing to their 
symbolic complexity and dynamic character, ... are particularly suitable for expressing 

102 Mach, 265. 


identity and intergroup relations." 103 

Mach points out that ritual serves not only to maintain and reinforce group 
identities over time, but also provides a way that new identities can be defined and 
established. In both processes, rituals, as well as other symbolic forms, "shape relations 
through the emotional and ideological construction of images, polarization of partners in 
social conflict, acting out of models of social orders, . . . and making obscure . . . 
differences clear and easy to perceive and understand." 104 

In the Baptismal ritual we have been looking at as a model, the newly baptized are 
"marked as Christ's own for ever," welcomed "into the household of God," and given a 
share in "[Christ's] eternal priesthood" (BCP, 308). This is a new group identity into 
which they have been initiated through the ritual. They are these people, which implies 
that there are those people who are other/different, at the very least the (unbaptized) 
people from whose group the new baptized have come. Although this is an initiatory rite 
and not repeated for the same individuals, the group identity of "baptized Christian" is 
brought into the foreground every time they renew the baptismal covenant, e.g., at the 
baptism of others or at the GreatVigil of Easter. 

Operational Efficacy 
The operational efficacy of rituals, like that of other performances, lies in their 

103 Ibid. 
,04 Ibid. 269-70. 


ability to make changes in the world outside the performance. I want to point specifically 
here, in parallel to the discussion of Indian street theatre in Chapter 1 , to the ways rituals 
can impel changes in power relationships and in the way "right behavior" is understood. 
The operational efficacy in both cases springs from the fact that in ritual relationships and 
behavior are, quite literally, embodied. And the fact that ritual, in contrast to 
performances like Indian street theatre in which is a distinct difference between 
performers and audience, involves all as participants means that all are (to a greater or 
lesser extent) actually embodying relationships and behavior, "acting" them out. 
Power relationships. Ritual performances embody differential relationships. In 
sacramental liturgies, for example, the priest or presider has actions, speech, and often a 
particular location in the ritual space reserved for him/her. Whatever egalitarian theology 
of the "priesthood of all believers" may be explicitly espoused, the rituals enact 
something quite different, and these differences have to do with power. 

Catherine Bell sees the enacting of power relationships as an intrinsic aspect of 
what she calls 'ritualization.' "Ritualization," she says, "is a strategic play of power, of 
domination and resistance, within the arena of the social body." 105 She explicates this in 
terms of embodiment and enacting: "It is in ritual — . . . as the area for prescribed 
sequences of repetitive movements of the body that simultaneously constitute the body, 
the person, and the macro-and micronetworks of power — that we can see a fundamental 

105 Catherine Bell, Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice (New York: Oxford University Press, 
1992), 204. 


strategy of power." 106 Participants in a ritual enact the structure of the ritual in their bodies 
(and in their minds and emotions) and in so doing embody their relationships to each 
other and to those outside the ritual. But the operational efficacy of rituals with respect to 
power relationships does not derive only from "rehearsing" them in the ritual actions. 
Ritual, in Mach's words, not only "creates a reality of power [and] acts it out, [but] 
provides it with an aura of sacredness and traditional values." 107 But, as he points out, 
rituals do not always embody and sanctify status quo power relationships. Rituals can also 
be used by subordinate groups to propose and create a new social ordering: "Dissatisfied 
groups which contest the social order also use symbolic structures to express their views 
and to construct their political world." 108 

"Right behavior. " Liturgical theologian Theodore Jennings sees the operational efficacy 
of ritual in even broader terms. He believes that the function of ritual is to "pattern all 
significant action," 109 and indeed he argues that a criterion for "falsifying" a ritual is "the 
extent to which it cannot serve as a paradigm for significant action outside the ritual itself 
and [it] is validated to the extent to which it does function in this way." 110 He gives the 
Lord's Prayer as an example. On the basis of its use in ritual, it has efficacy outside the 

106 Ibid. 
107 Ibid., 83. 
108 Mach, 266. 
109 Jennings, 329. 
110 Ibid. 


rite by constituting a criterion of what all (Christian) prayer should be. 1 " The Baptismal 
Covenant represents another way in which extra-ritual actions can be patterned by what 
happens within a ritual. The second part of the covenant is a dialogue between the 
celebrant and the candidate in which the latter promises to behave in certain ways "with 
God's help," to conform to a particular way of life, a mode of "right action" in the world 
outside the ritual (BCP, 304-5). 112 

I have discussed three ways in which ritual performance may be efficacious: 
through mediating an encounter with a persistent divine or spiritual reality which can be a 
vision of a new way of being and/or a model on the basis of which the world of ordinary 
experience can be judged; through confirming or establishing a group identity delimited 
by the ritual, and through ritual-formed actions in the world. 

The Rite II Eucharistic Liturgy as Effective Performance 
Let us now apply the analysis of effective performance developed above to a 
consideration of a specific Eucharistic ritual. I have chosen to focus on the Rite II liturgy 
in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, because as the Eucharistic ritual most commonly 



112 A promise — "I will, with God's help" — is not a proposition or statement, but a 
"performative" utterance, a verbal expression which accomplishes a result — a speech-act. 
See J.L. Austin, How to Do Things with Words (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 


used in the denomination, it forms the common experience of Eucharist for most 

In our examination of the Rite II Eucharist, we will be asking how well the 
liturgical performance functions as a communication event, especially at the deep levels 
of communication which touch the bodies and hearts of the participants. We will look at 
the multilayering of space and time which gives form to the performance, the through-line 
which carries participants through it, and the web of symbols into which the performance 
draws the participants. For each of these we will question to what extent they succeed in 
making the liturgical performance effective and in what way: revelatory — encountering a 
divine reality which re-visions and/or judges the everyday, lived world; 
constitutive — confirming or establishing a group identity, or operational — impelling the 
ritual's participants outward to do ritual-formed actions in the world. 

As a reference point for my discussion of the liturgy, I will use an outline which I 
have slightly adapted from one provided by the Episcopal liturgist, Byron D. Stuhlman. 
This outline uses the titles for the sections of the liturgy as given in the text of Rite II 
itself (BCP, 355-375) and in the "Order for Celebrating the Holy Eucharist" (BCP, 400- 
401; these titles are in quotes). 113 


"The People and Priest Gather in the Lord's Name" 
Hymn, Psalm, or Anthem (optional) 

113 Byron D. Stuhlman, Eucharistic Celebration 1789-1979 (New York: Church Hymnal 
Corporation, 1988), 137-141. 



Collect for Purity (optional) 

Gloria, song of praise, Kyrie, or Trisagion 

"They Proclaim and Respond to the Word of God" 
The Word of God 

Salutation dialogue and collect 

First lesson 

Psalm, hymn, or anthem (optional) 

Second lesson (optional) 

Psalm, hymn, or anthem (optional) 

Gospel with responses before and after 

The Sermon 

The Nicene Creed (on Sundays and other Major Feasts) 

"They Pray for the World and the Church" 
The Prayers of the People 

The Confession (may be omitted on occasion) 
Invitation, Confession, Absolution 

"They Exchange the Peace " 
The Peace 


"They Prepare the Table" 

Sentence of bidding (optional) 

Hymn, psalm, or anthem (optional) 

Collection of alms 

Presentation and Placement of bread, wine, and money or other gifts 

"They Make Eucharist" (Give Thanks) 
The Great Thanksgiving 

Salutation and "Lift up your hearts" dialogue 



Continuation with Institution Narrative, Memorial Acclamation, Offering, 
and Epiclesis (four alternatives) 

Great Amen 

Lord's Prayer 


"They Break the Bread" 
The Breaking of the Bread 

Fraction in silence 

Pascha Nostrum and/or Agnus Dei or other anthem (optional) 

"They Share the Gifts of God" 

Hymns, psalms, anthems (optional) 
Postcommunion prayer (two alternatives) 
Hymn (optional) 
Blessing (optional) 
Dismissal (four forms) and response 

The outline summarizes the text of the Rite II liturgy, but of course, as a ritual, the 
text in the Book of Common Prayer is not meant to be read, but to be performed, to 
become embodied action in space and time. We have seen that rituals, like other 
performances, are effective insofar as they communicate to the bodies and hearts of 
participants through the multilayering of space and time, the through-line, and 
symbolization. In this section, I will look at the Rite II Eucharist from the point of view of 
each of these. 

Using this outline as a reference point, we shall now look at the efficacy of the 
Rite II Eucharist from the point of view of each of the aspects of nondiscursive 
communication, the through-line, performance space and time, and symbols. 

What is the through-line of the Rite II Eucharistic liturgy as a processual 
embodiment? What is the dynamic unity which carries the participants on from the 


beginning to the end of the ritual? Although any through-line is difficult to grasp in 
words, I believe that a fair expression of Rite El's through-line is in terms of the formation 
of a new community. From the gathering of individuals from their scattered lives, to the 
re-scattering of them back into the world after the "Thanks be to God" response at the 
dismissal, the ritual takes the participants through a series of speech-acts (prayer, 
confession, affirmation, etc.), symbolic gestures, and actions which forms them step-by- 
step from a disparate aggregate of persons who come together in the ritual space to the 
"People of God" (BCP, 364) who eat and drink together the bread and wine which they 
acknowledge as the Body and Blood of Christ, and leave as "living members" of Jesus 
Christ (366). As participants, they perform the ritual with their bodies, voices, 
perceptions, emotions, minds, and imaginations within the boundaries of the ritual space 
and time. This process can be understood as a series of scenes, each one of which ends 
with a distinctive action which moves the ritual on to the next scene. They are (I have 
italicized the pivotal actions ending each scene): 

Scene 1 : The participants open themselves to a new communal identity in relation 
to the divine — from the Opening Acclamation to the affirmation of faith in the Nicene 

Scene 2: They deepen their commitment to one another and being to act as a new 
community — from the Prayers of the People to the Peace and the Offertory. 

Scene 3: They are consecrated as a holy people and fed with sacred food — from 
the Sursum Corda-Preface-Sanctus to the Communion. 

Scene 4: They acknowledge their new status as "living members" of Christ and go 
forth — Postcommunion Prayer to the Dismissal. 


This is powerful, and insofar as the members of the congregation do experience 
this through-line, it would seem that the Rite II Eucharistic liturgy does have constitutive 
efficacy, as described above: by participating in the ritual, they will come to a new or 
reinforced sense of identity, of belonging. In addition, as this new People is sent forth into 
the world, there is the hope of operational efficacy. But we need to distinguish in the case 
of any ritual between its potential and its actual efficacy. It seems clear from the above 
that Rite II is at least potentially effective. However, I believe that there are three serious 
difficulties with the through-line of the Rite II Eucharist which impede the actualizing of 
this potential efficacy. First, at certain points in the liturgy discrete sections are merely 
juxtaposed — a + b + c — rather than one flowing "naturally" or "logically" into the other. 
Second, the efficacy of the through-line is muted by the limited participation of the 
worshippers in the actions of the liturgy. Third, the through-line is not assertive enough in 
sending the newly formed People forth into the world. 

Interruptions of through-line flow. When sections of the liturgy are merely juxtaposed, 
following the liturgy becomes a matter of learning by rote what comes next rather than a 
heart-felt experience of being borne along. In the Rite II Eucharist, at the end of the 
liturgy of the Word, several actions follow one another which "work" fine separately, but 
which give no sense of the progressive transformation of persons becoming more and 
more deeply "a people." I have in mind the sequence of the Creed, followed by the 
Prayers of the People, followed by the Confession. While in each of these speech-acts 
individually an identity is clearly being formed — in the Creed, as believers in communion 


with believers through the centuries; in the Prayers of the People, as compassionate 
people linked with the widest possible community of care and concern ("the welfare of 
the world"); in the Confession, as struggling persons who have failed to love God and 
neighbor and yet are forgiven, strengthened, and kept "in eternal life" — there seems to be 
no discernable path from one to another. Another mere one-after-another sequence, it 
seems to me, is the move from the Great Amen to the Lord's Prayer to the Fraction. The 
effect of the juxtaposition of these discrete sections is to limit the power of the ritual to 
carry the participants through a transformation, in this case a transformation of identity. In 
other words, the constitutive efficacy of the ritual is to some extent stunted. 
Limited participation. A more serious problem with the through-line comes from the 
restricted nature of the participation of the non-celebrants (i.e., the ones who are not 
presiding) in the ritual. In the Eucharistic Prayer or Great Thanksgiving, for example, the 
celebrant recites most of the prayers and performs the most significant ritual actions. The 
other participants verbally respond in the Sursum Corda dialogue and the Memorial 
Acclamation (in Prayer C there are more "lines" for the congregation, but still the bulk of 
the prayers are said by the celebrant [BCP, 369-372]). Their ritual actions are restricted to 
either standing or kneeling. 

I want to argue that this seriously restricts the impact of the ritual, specifically 
with respect to ritual's power to re-form the bodies of the participants. The text of a ritual 
is intended to be embodied, and moves into embodiment through what contemporary 
performance theorists call the "mise-en scene," defined as "a complex group of 


operations, each of which transcribes a message written in a given sign system (literary 
writing, musical notation) and turns it into a message capable of being inscribed on 
human bodies and transmitted by those to the other bodies: a kind of somatography." 114 
The "inscription" onto bodies takes place in the repeated actions — including speech- 
acts — of the ritual in performance. While a performance of a Rite II Eucharist is 
obviously embodied, and to that extent does inscribe the text on the bodies of the 
participants, the amount of actual enactment other than simple postures and occasional 
verbal acts is limited. The large exceptions to this are the exchange of the Peace, which is 
optional; the bringing forward of the Offertory by representatives of the congregation 
(BCP, 361), and the Communion, admittedly the primary symbolic act of the ritual. 
However I find it poignant to read in Stulhman's outline the headings in quotation marks, 
taken from the Order for Celebrating the Eucharist: "They [i.e., the priest and the people] 
gather in the Lord's name," "They proclaim and respond to the Word of God," "They 
make Eucharist," "They Break the Bread" In fact, they mostly do not do any of these 
things, although ideal participants in the ritual will join explicitly or emotionally in the 
prayers of the celebrant and be prayerfully "involved" in the celebrant's actions. But this 
remains in most performances of the Eucharist an ideal rather than what actually happens; 
the liturgy for the most part does not itself gather the people up in the through-line and 

1 14 Jean-Francois Lyotard, quoted by Sudipo Chatterjee, "Mise-en-(Colonial-) Scene: The 
Theatre of the Bengal Renaissance" in Imperialism and Theatre: Essays on World 
Theatre, Drama and Performance ed. J. Ellen Gainor (London: Routledge, 1995), 25. 


carry them along through active ritual participation. With the significant exceptions noted 
above, the "inscriptions on the body" made by this ritual as it unfolds are minimal and 
this diminishes its efficacy. Most especially, it limits the liturgy's operational efficacy, the 
possibility of changing participants' behaviors in the world beyond the ritual. 
Inadequate commissioning to "go forth. " The through-line of the Rite II Eucharist fails to 
adequately send the participants back out into the world. There is, I believe, a tension 
between the underlying through-line and the "script" of the words spoken at the end of the 
liturgy. In the first alternative of the Postcommunion prayer, the celebrant and people 
pray together: "Send us now into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage to 
love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart ..." (BCP, 365); in the second, 
they pray: "... send us out to do the work you have given us to do, to love and serve you 
as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord" (BCP, 366). Then follows the Dismissal dialogue 
for which the text gives four versions, to all of which the response is "Thanks be to God." 
The first three — "Let us go forth in the name of Christ," "Go in peace to love and serve 
the Lord," "Let us go forth into the world, rejoicing in the power of the Spirit" (BCP, 
366) — clearly direct the people outward from the ritual space and time. In the 
combination of the Postcommunion prayer and three versions of the Dismissal, then, 
there is a clear directionality indicated by the text and enacted in speech-acts by the 
celebrant and other participants. Yet it seems to me that this directionality is to some 
extent contradicted or undermined by a through-line which seems to bring the ritual to an 
end at the Communion, or, alternatively, treats the action of Communion as the 


culmination of the ritual. This is apparent in the text of both the Rite II liturgy per se and 
the Order for Celebrating the Holy Eucharist. In the former, the final heading in the text is 
"The Breaking of the Bread" (364); in the latter, it is "[The People and Priest] Share the 
Gifts of God" (BCP, 401). There is no separate heading highlighting the significance of 
the sending out. This textual blindspot is reinforced by the fact that the "going forth" is 
not ritualized in gesture or action, although, as we have seen, it is expressed in speech- 
acts shared by the celebrant and the other participants. 115 

Insofar as the participants leave the ritual as a People of God and members of 
Christ, and "do the work [God] has given [them] to do," the ritual has strong operational 
efficacy. But the concern expressed here is that the transition from the liturgy to daily life 
is not upheld by the ritual's through-line, and that significantly weakens the crucial acts of 
sending and going forth. 

Space and Time 
In the processual, embodied event which is the Rite II Eucharistic liturgy, as in all 
other performances, the ordinary space and time of everyday life is overlaid with a 
distinctive "dramatic" space-time which shapes the communication event as well as 
delimiting who and what is included within it. I will discuss, in this section, two features 

115 It is interesting to note that the fourth alternative Dismissal form is "Let us bless the 
Lord" which nearly echoes the very first words of the liturgy: "Blessed be God: Father, 
Son, and Holy Spirit . . . (BCP, 355), and seems, in circling back in this way, to further 
weaken the sending forth. 


of the space-time of the liturgy which affect the efficacy of the ritual: first, the 
hierarchical ordering of the space, and second, the strongly revelatory character of the 
liturgy's multilayering of space and time. 

"Ordering" of the space and time. The ritual space in the Rite II Eucharistic liturgy is 
primarily defined by the presence of an altar or "Holy Table" (BCP, 406), which should 
be, Stuhlman says, "a freestanding table ... in the midst of the people rather than 
separated from them." 116 

Yet, as the ritual's participants gather, there is a clear spatial, as well as functional, 
differentiation between the celebrant and the people. The differentiation is based on 
ecclesiastical "order," the division of members of the denomination into bishops, priests, 
deacons, and laity. That the differentiation of the participants into orders plays a 
significant part in the enactment of the Rite II liturgy is witnessed to by the introductory 
rubrics to the Eucharistic rites in the 1979 Prayer Book. Five out of six rubrics set out 
positions and functions according to membership in one of the orders. In several of these 
rubrics, status "position" and physical position are conjoined, for example in the rubric 
stating that, "It is appropriate that the other priests present stand with the celebrant at the 
Altar, and join in the consecration of the gifts, in breaking the Bread, and in distributing 
Communion" (BCP 322). This indicates that, to some extent, where people are placed in 

ll6 Stuhlman, Eucharistic Celebration, 152. Some rubrics within the Rite II Eucharistic 
Prayer which refer to the Celebrant "facing the Holy Table" in apparent contrast to facing 
the people, seem to be remnants from pre- 1979 celebrations of the Eucharist when the 
altar was assumed to be fixed to the back wall. See, for example, BCP, 361. 



the ritual space depends on a prior status, a persistent identity acknowledged by the 
community and continuing in the world outside the ritual." 7 The altar is clearly associated 
spatially with the priestly orders, with the celebrant (a bishop or priest) and other priests 
clustered in its vicinity (although lay persons may be in this area as well), while the bulk 
of the people are somewhat separate from it, whether in front, around, or on three sides of 
the altar (Stuhlman's ideal configuration 118 ). The ordered (in several senses) nature of the 
ritual space can be considered to form two performance areas — where the celebrant is and 
where "the people" are. 

The spatial ordering into two performance areas bridged by speech is broken 
through by physical movements several times during the ritual, possibly in the optional 
Gospel procession into "the midst of the people," possibly at the Peace (the Exchange of 
the Peace is optional in Rite II), and definitely in the Offertory and Communion. The 
rubrics for the Offertory are quite clear, in fact, that the two spaces should be traversed: 
"Representatives of the congregation bring the people's offering of bread and wine, and 
money or other gifts, to the deacon or celebrant" (BCP, 361). And the celebrant and other 
ministers are instructed by the rubrics to "deliver [the Sacrament] to the people" (365) 
who come forward to receive (BCP, 407). 

The warping of the ritual space into a hierarchical "order"ing is reinforced at one 

117 This is obviously quite different from an actor taking on a role for the duration of a 

118 Stuhlman, 152. 


point in the ritual by an analogous ordering of temporal sequence: one of the "Additional 
Directions" specifies that "While the people are coming forward to receive Communion, 
the celebrant receives the Sacrament in both kinds. The bishops, priests, and deacons at 
the Holy Table then communicate, and after them the people" (BCP, 407). 119 

The text of the liturgy does suggest another possible interpretation of the division 
of space. The liturgy begins and ends with dialogues between the celebrant and the 
people. The celebrant, people, and both together alternate speech-acts and actions 
throughout the liturgy, although the greater part of each is performed by the celebrant. 
Could the assignment of liturgical tasks and the consequent forming of the space by the 
ritual be understood as dialogical, rather than hierarchical? The problem with this, of 
course, is the underlying fact that the functions are underpinned by a status, canonical 
order, which is itself permanently conferred by the prior ritual action of ordination. But, 
as we will see in the final section, it may be fruitful to push Eucharistic liturgy and the 
space it forms farther in the direction of a dialogical/functional, rather than a 
hierarchical/order-based, division. 

However, given the dominance of the latter in the current Rite II liturgy, what impact 
does the hierarchalization of the ritual space have on the efficacy of the liturgy? Another 
formulation of this question in terms of our analysis of ritual as a communication event, 

119 The Additional Directions (BCP, 406-409), like the rubrics in Concerning the Service 
(BCP, 322), apply to both the Rite I and Rite II Eucharistic liturgies, and the Order for 
Celebrating the Holy Eucharist. 


is: what is communicated to the liturgy's participants by the hierarchalization of the space 
and how well is it communicated? I see two answers. First, Rite II is constitutively 
effective in establishing at least two identities within the ritual's participants — the 
celebrant and others belonging to the "ordained" orders on the one hand, and "the people" 
on the other. Given the dominant role of hierarchy in forming the ritual space, I believe 
that the liturgy is quite effective in splitting the participants into (at least) two 
hierarchically ordered identities. Second, the liturgy is effective in the first sense of 
operational efficacy described above, 120 that of changing or reinforcing behavior having to 
do with power relationships outside of the context of the ritual. In its formation of the 
bodies of the ritual participants, the Rite II liturgy leads in the direction of an acceptance 
of hierarchical relationships. This is so precisely because of the nondiscursive nature of 
the ritual performance. This liturgy, as Zdzislaw Mach says of ritual in general, "creates a 
reality of power, acts it out, and provides it with an aura of sacredness and traditional 
values." 121 Hierarchical ordering in the Rite II liturgy is not stated, justified, thought — it is 
enacted, embodied, and lived into. 

Akahsah: what shines forth. As we have seen, it is an intrinsic quality of performance to 
layer space and time in an ontologically complex communication event. As with all 
performances, the external, physical space and time of the Eucharistic ritual have an 

120 See above 42-44. 
121 Mach, 83. 


interior aspect as well; the outward spatial and temporal arrangements, even taken in 

their simplest, linear senses are weighted with meanings, memories, and emotions. There 

are a number of points at which either or both the ritual space and time are layered with 

"more than" the here and the now. The "more than" comes to be and is revealed in the 

ritual space and time, the akahsah of the performance. 122 Some significant examples are: 

— the invoking of the divine presence into the ritual space with the dialogue, "The 
Lord be with you'V'and also with you" 

— the reading of the lessons (including the psalm and gospel) whose interwoven 
stories, characters, images, and themes enrich the web of meanings, memories, and 
emotions already present in the ritual space and time; in terms of time, the lessons also 
contextualize the ritual in terms of the symbolic calendar of the liturgical year, itself 
playing out the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ 

— the drawing into the ritual space of objects of concern and thanksgiving; 
reaching out to gather in "the World and the Church" (BCP, 400), in all its pain and joy 

— the opening of the space to the heavenly "company of angels and archangels" in 
the Preface 

— the acknowledgment of an eschatological dimension which is both here ("keep 
you in eternal life" [BCP, 360] and "not-yet" ("thy kingdom come"[BCP, 364]} and the 
implications of the request to be sent out "to do the work you have given us to do" [366]) 

— the deepening intensity of the past-becoming-present which begins with the 
Eucharistic Prayer culminates in the physical eating and drinking of the Communion; 
physical movement, touch, smell, taste, emotion in the present make the remembering of 
the past events of Jesus' life and death radically here-and-now. 

The multilayering of this space and time with other spaces and times in the 

performance of the Rite II Eucharistic liturgy provides a rich matrix which works below 


and beyond discourse in the communication event of the Eucharist. Past and future 
become present, the whole worlds of earth and heaven become here. Because of this 
layering, the ritual is efficacious in the revelatory sense. Insofar as the participants are 
actively engaged in it, the liturgy is the medium for an encounter with an alternative 
network of relationships in a layered time which is both "eternal life" (in which the 
worshippers the participate) and yet a "not-yet-now": a network of relationships with the 
whole world as an object of concern and thanksgiving; with the lineage of all the saints 
and the "company of heaven," and with Jesus Christ, revealed in the stories of his life, 
death, and resurrection and in the breaking of bread and pouring out of wine. 

The Rite II liturgy, by virtue of its multilayering of space and time, has revelatory 
efficacy for its participants insofar as they are actively engaged in it (see the discussion of 
the through-line, above). The worshippers encounter a numinous realm, a vividly 
expanded reality comprising the divine, the "company of heaven," the faithful living and 
dead, and all who suffer. This vision-made-real breaks open a revelation of what is 
possible, what can be hoped for, and from the perspective it reveals, ordinary, accepted 
reality can be judged. 

We have seen that the multilayered space and time of the Rite II Eucharistic 
liturgy pulls in several quite different ways on the participants in the ritual. On one hand, 
the ritual space in Rite II is primarily hierarchical space differentiated largely by "order," 
a permanent status, itself conferred ritually in ceremonies of ordination. This kind of 
ritual space constitutively effects a division of identity into two groups — those who can 


be celebrants and those who are "the people" — and operationally effects a tendency to 
accept hierarchical power relationships in the extra-ritual world. On the other hand, the 
numinous world which the liturgy layers with ordinary space and time reveals a divinely 
warranted alternative to that ordinary world and exposes it — including at least some sorts 
of power relationships — to judgement. In the Rite II liturgy, the various effects of the 
communication to the participants arising from the nature of the ritual space and time thus 
exist in radical tension with one another, with no clear resolution provided by the ritual 


The third aspect we have been looking at in our study of performance is the web 
of symbols which makes up the "material" or "stuff of the communication to and among 
the participants in the performance. Symbols, as we have seen, can be physical objects, 
gestures, or actions, as well as interactions among them. In the Rite II Eucharistic liturgy 
the primary physical object symbols are the bread and the cup of wine, the altar or "Holy 
Table," and money and other offerings besides the bread and wine. Of these, clearly the 
most central are the altar, which literally "centers" the action, and the bread and the wine, 
physical symbols which are richly multivalent and ambiguous. 123 

Since the Eucharist is a performance, a processual whole, the physical symbols are 
not merely statically present, but are ritually acted with and on in a complex of gestures 

123 See above, 33-36. 


and movements which also have symbolic force. Among these are: arranging of the 
participants with respect to the altar; bringing forward the bread, wine, money, and other 
offerings, and placing them on the altar; the officiant touching the bread and the cup 
during the Institution Narrative, and of course, the climactic symbolic action of the eating 
and drinking of the elements at the Communion. The symbolic objects and 
gestures/movements are at the same time intertwined with the speech acts of the 
Eucharistic Prayer from the Institution Narrative to the Doxology, the prayers at 
Communion, and the post-Communion Prayer. 

A number of gestures which occur in the ritual do not involve symbolic objects, 
for example, the postures of standing or kneeling, the passing of the Peace and the 
blessing gestures (when they are used). But they have the same characteristics as 
symbolic objects: they carry a host of emotive, imagistic, and cognitive meanings which 
are never able to be fully delimited and they have a power in themselves which attracts or, 
sometimes, repels. Good indicators of the potency of symbolic gestures are the resistance 
to the passing of the Peace in some churches and disagreements about standing versus 
kneeling during the Eucharistic Prayer. 

In our discussion above of the nature of ritual symbols, we cited Alexander 
Schmemann's characterization of such symbols as "epiphanic," manifesting and 
communicating the divine by virtue of itself participating in it. 124 The participant, we said, 

124 See above, 62. 


is drawn into the realm of the divine by the power of the ritual symbols. In the Rite II 
Eucharistic ritual, the most powerful symbols are clustered around the Communion feast: 
the bread, the wine, the altar/holy table, the People of God who share the feast, as well as 
the symbolic actions of preparing, offering, and eating and drinking. They evoke (through 
the speech-acts associated with them) especially the meanings of the Last Supper, the 
Body and Blood of Christ "given for you," the "Gifts of God," and the paschal sacrifice 
associated with the forming and freeing from bondage of the people of Israel. 

In the communication event of the Rite II Eucharistic ritual, these central symbols 
seem to function primarily to guarantee and uphold the formation of the new identity (or 
the re-membering of the identity) of the participants as the People of God. They thus, at 
least potentially, strengthen the constitutive efficacy of the ritual. Because of the 
multivalency of the symbols any expression of this in words has to be kaleidoscopic (and 
must always be partial): they become a consecrated people, sharing an eschatological 
feast ("the holy food and drink of new and unending life in him" [BCP, 363]); they eat 
and drink the Body and Blood of Christ, becoming members of Christ's body; they 
partake of the paschal sacrifice, becoming a people saved by God's action as the Israelites 
were saved; they receive the "Gifts of God." 

While, however, the ritual uses the central symbolic objects and actions very 
effectively to create and reinforce identity, it is weak from the point of view of 
operational efficacy — it fails to exploit other meanings that would tend to push 
participants outward into changed relationships and actions in the world beyond the ritual. 


The equality of the sharing in the reception of Communion is potentially a challenge to 
the People of God to confront structures of power in the world. The breaking of the bread, 
the pouring out of the wine, as well as the identification of the broken bread and poured 
out wine with the Body and Blood of Christ, could be mined for meanings that call for 
passionate, self-giving action. In fact, however, the ritual's use of the symbolic content 
reinforces the tendency of its through-line, as we saw above, to carry the worshippers to 
the reception of Communion and then stop, treating the sending forth of the people as 

We have considered the Rite II Eucharist from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, 
looking at the ways it communicates to participants by means of its through-line, layering 
of space and time, and matrix of symbols, and evaluating how effective this 
communication is in terms of its ability to change the participants and through them the 
world outside the ritual. We have concluded that the ritual is potentially effective, but this 
potentiality is to some extent not actualized because a. there are weaknesses in the 
through-line which limit the formation of a new identity as the People of God and do not 
provide a strong commission/dismissal to move the people outward into the world; 
b. there are contradictory pulls in the space-time of the ritual between the strongly 
revelatory character of the ritual's space-time and its hierarchalizing of space; and c. the 
range of symbolic meanings highlighted in the ritual emphasizes the formation of identity 
(constitutive efficacy) while failing to exploit other possible meanings which impel action 


in the world (operational efficacy). 

Indian Street Theatre and Eucharistic Liturgy: Towards a More Emancipatory 


In this section we shall return to Indian street theatre, our paradigm of 
emancipatory performance. We shall use it as a lens to sharpen our focus on issues in the 
performance of the Eucharist, raise questions about that performance, and explore 
possible directions towards a transforming of Eucharist liturgy so that it may more 
effectively mediate the promise of emancipation/liberation/salvation. 

In Chapter 1, we defined "emancipatory performances" as "performances which 
lead to deeper and fuller humanity for some, without compromising the essential 
humanity of others." 125 But while Indian street theatre clearly falls under this definition, 
does it apply to Eucharistic rituals? Is this not too "humanistic" a definition for a religious 

There are two responses to this objection. First, in the discussion of "humanity" 
and "humanization" in Chapter 1, the concepts were defined broadly as ranging over all 
the conditions of human life, from basic survival needs to a relationship with a 
transcendent presence or ideal, beyond the here and now, and not "owned" by the present 
moment. This latter clearly relates to religious ritual, and is even compatible with a quite 
"spiritual" notion of salvation. Second, the participants in Eucharistic rituals are, for the 

125 See above, 46. 


most part at least, baptized Christians. They come to the Eucharist already ritually formed 
by the sacrament of Baptism. As such, they have entered into a covenantal relationship 
with God in which they have promised to "seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving 
[their] neighbor as [themselves]" and to "strive for justice and peace among all people, 
and respect the dignity of every human being" (BCP, 305). Echoes of this are heard 
within the Rite II Eucharist itself, for example in the Confession, when the worshippers 
confess that "we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves," express repentance, and ask 
for forgiveness (BCP, 360). The Catechism of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer 
reinforces the social — the human-directed — dimension of the Eucharist. It affirms that 
one of the benefits of the Eucharist is "the strengthening of our union with Christ and one 
another" (BCP, 860). And it includes among "what is required of us when we come to the 
Eucharist," the stipulation that participants should "be in love and charity with all people" 
(BCP, 860). The Eucharistic ritual, then, intends to be not only effective but emancipatory 
in the sense defined in Chapter 1 — leading to deeper and fuller humanity, ultimately for 
all people. And in so intending, it is a radical performance since it fulfills the definition of 
challenging and re-envisioning "ingrained social arrangements of power" insofar as those 
social arrangements prevent being in "love and charity" with all people, or impede 
striving "for justice and peace among all people" and "respecting the dignity of every 
human being." 

Given this, then what can we learn about Eucharistic ritual from Indian street 
theatre, our paradigm of emancipatory performance? What does it suggest for reforming 


Eucharistic liturgy so that God's liberative/salvific action may be mediated and 
communicated more effectively? We shall look briefly at each of the three components of 
nondiscursive communication, asking what questions Indian street theatre raises for 
Eucharistic liturgy in each of the areas of through-line, ritual space and time, and symbol, 
and indicating for each some practical suggestions for re-forming liturgy to be a more 
effectively emancipatory performance. 


We saw in Chapter 1 how Indian street theatre radically challenges (consider 
Mungai's The Newborn) and re -envisions (consider Ramanna's play about the indebted 
couple saved by an act of Dalit solidarity) social structures which systemically prevent the 
achievement of full humanity. This suggests that the through-line of any emancipatory 
performance must involve the breaking down of structures and the posing of alternatives. 
That is, it must processually embody opposition to oppression and re-envision a fuller 
human life, a life of "justice, dignity, and peace." 

But the firmly pragmatic character of Indian street theatre warns us that opposition 
and re-envisioning which ends with the end of the performance is not emancipatory. 
Rather, the through-line of an emancipatory performance must be strongly directional, 
propelling the participants out into action towards actually creating the re-envisioned 
alternatives in the world. It is certain that both Mungai and Ramanna intend the effects of 
their work to continue long after the performance. 


Taking Indian street theatre as paradigmatic of emancipatory performances, then, 
suggests that for a Eucharistic ritual to be effective toward emancipation it should have a 
through-line which a. poses a sharp distinction between what is and what is yearned for 
and b. provides a clear trajectory which carries the participants beyond the ritual into the 
daily world. It is important to note that these are not merely formal requirements towards 
increased efficacy; "emancipatory" carries a distinctive content, as we have seen. So an 
emancipatory Eucharistic ritual is called to oppose whatever limits the achievement of 
full humanity, and to launch participants into efforts to create a world in which "the 
forces of love, justice, and peace may prevail," in the words of C.S. Song, 126 or, 
alternatively, in which the promises of the Baptismal covenant are truly lived out. 

The critique in the last section of the through-line of the Rite II liturgy from the 
point of view of efficacy has consequences for its emancipatory power and can be 
re framed more strongly in emancipatory terms: God's liberative/salvific action is 
communicated less effectively than it might be by the through-line of the Rite II liturgy 
because it forms the bodies of the participants in a very limited way and fails to provide a 
sufficient underpinning for the sending forth of the worshippers to work to create a world 
of justice, peace and dignity for all people. A re-formed Eucharistic ritual seeking to be 
more emancipatorily effective will need to provide a more explicitly oppositional, 
visionary, and directional through-line which is enacted in a more participatory way by 

126 Song, 185. 


the worshippers. I want to suggest two quite general ways of re-forming the through-line 
of the Eucharistic liturgy: 

Finding and implementing an alternative. We have seen that one articulation of the 
through-line of the Rite II liturgy is the formation of a new community. The ritual, as we 
saw, ideally takes the participants step-by-step from people who come together out of 
their disparate lives and forms them into a "People of God," and sends them out of the 
ritual as "living members" of Jesus Christ. 127 But we identified a tendency to linger within 
the ritual; the through-line does not seem to move participants strongly enough out of the 
ritual and into the world. 

I want to suggest an alternative through-line for a reconstructed Eucharistic ritual: 
a dynamic unity consisting of a double motion which involves both breaking down 
barriers — between past and present, future and present, heaven and earth; among the 
participants; between those praying here and those suffering there — and entering into 
com-munion. In its double motion, this through-line would communicate the reality of the 
realm of God in which all are invited to the feast, all forgive and are forgiven, all receive 
their daily bread. Once the participants have entered into the ritual they are carried along 
by this double motion and then — since it is about breaking through barriers — the "internal 
logic" of the through-line carries them out beyond the apparent boundary of the end of the 
ritual into a way of life which enacts the same dynamic of breaking down and bringing 

127 See above, 77. 


into union what has been separated. Like the ripples of questioning left behind in the 
villages by Mungai's play, the pattern established by the double current of the through- 
line will ripple outward to continue the effect of the ritual in the world: to break down 
barriers to justice, dignity, and peace. 

I am influenced in this formulation of an alternative through-line for the 
Eucharistic ritual by Alexander Schmemann, who sees the sacraments, especially the 
Eucharist, as the way the church "fulfills itself as the body of Christ, as the divine 
parousia — the presence and the communication of Christ and his kingdom." 128 For 
Schmemann, that sacramental presence and communication results, for those who 
encounter it and in it experience God's love, in their becoming "real co-workers in the 
work of Christ," 129 committed to the transformation of "state, society, culture, [and] 
nature itself." 130 I believe that in a reconstructed Eucharistic ritual, the encounter with the 
powerful, faithful, ongoing action of God in breaking down barriers and bringing what 
was separated into com-munion would indeed form "real co-workers in the work of 

The alternative through-line suggested here would affect the order of prayers and 
actions in the ritual. I want to point out just one possibility. In Eucharistic Prayer D of 

128 Alexander Schmemann, "The Missionary Imperative in the Orthodox Tradition," in The 
Theology of the Christian Mission (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1961), 253. 

129 Ibid., 255. 
130 Ibid., 256. 


Rite II, the Epiclesis is followed by a brief version of the Prayers of the People. I believe 
that this positioning should be normative for an emancipatory Eucharistic ritual. It seems 
to me ideal that precisely at this sacred time of remembrance of Christ's life, death, and 
resurrection the hearts of the worshippers are called upon to break down barriers of 
distance, ignorance, insensitivity, and demonization, to achieve the com-munion of 
concern and empathy for the other. The Indian theologian Kenith David vividly expresses 
this connection between intercessory prayer and the breaking of barriers: 

In its origins, ['intercession'] connotes the fullness and depth 
of an encounter with another human being. Its image of being beside 
someone in need is succinctly rendered in English by the phrase, 'to 
feel the pulse.' Feeling the pulse requires two people to be beside each 
other, one holding the wrist of the other. Feeling the pulse enables the 
recognition and identification of pain; it has to do with life-and-blood 
realities. If feeling the pulse leads to the prescription and implementation 
of remedies, then our intercessions in church or anywhere else must 
become the nerve-center and backbone of our remedies for economic 
dislocation, political bankrupcy, cultural recovery and renewal, and so on. 131 

Increased participation. In the analysis of the Rite II liturgy above, I argued that the 

efficacy, especially the operational efficacy, of the ritual was limited by the lack of active 

participation by "the people" during significant sections, for example during the 

Eucharistic Prayer. Related to this is the failure to explicitly ritualize crucial parts of the 

liturgy like the Dismissal. The following suggestions are ways in which a reconstructed 

Eucharistic liturgy could increase participation of "the people" and ritualization of crucial 


'Kenith David, Sacrament and Struggle (Geneva: WCC Publications, 1994), 38. 


parts of the breaking of boundaries and joining into fuller com-munion: 

— Procession of the people to the altar at the Offertory and gathering around the 
altar for the Eucharistic Prayer and beyond should be made normative. This action of the 
whole "people" is an expansion of the Rite II liturgy's insistence that "representatives of 
the congregation bring the people's offerings of bread and wine, and money or other gifts, 
to the deacon or celebrant" (BCP, 361). What is a representative act should be made an 
act of the whole. The action of moving together into the space where the eschatological 
feast will be celebrated is at the same time an enacted remembering of the Exodus event 
which formed the Israelites into one people; of the many times Jesus fed and/or ate with 
people, often breaking the boundaries of social class and purity/impurity; and of the 
eschatological banquet which will be made "for all peoples" (Is. 25:6). 

— The Eucharistic Prayer should be reframed so that the individual sections are 
shorter and are each followed by an appropriate response. 132 

— A more radical sharing of the ritual actions would involve multiple loaves and 
cups place around the Holy Table, with the "taking, blessing, and breaking" 133 performed 
by a number of people. 

132 Eucharistic Prayer C (BCP, 370-372) follows this pattern, but the prayers should be still 
more brief, and the response, instead of varying, be the same, which would entail less 
focus on the written word in the Prayer Book and more on what is going on in the Prayer 
itself, as well as giving a deeper and more rhythmic intensity to the action. Again, the 
most effective ritual action — which includes speech-acts — is nondiscursive. 

'"Three of the four components of the "shape" of the Eucharistic ritual (the fourth is 
sharing, in the Communion) identified by Dom Gregory Dix. Cited in Stuhlman, 126-7. 


— The Dismissal should be expanded and more fully ritualized. The function of 
this section of the Eucharist is not to provide a tidy ending to a worship performance. 
Rather, like the opening of the question of female infanticide to the audience in Mungai's 
The Newborn, its point is to "create ripples," or to carry the through-line beyond the 
performance into the world of daily life. It is the "missio," the "ite, missa est" of the Latin 
Mass, whose very name conveys the notion of "sending." Some possible enactments: 

a. The Lord's Prayer, with its familiar but powerful linking of daily bread, daily 
forgiveness with the "kingdom, power, and glory" of the divine might be said after the 

b. The Post-Communion prayers should include a sense of commissioning, of 

being sent out together into the world, as well as an opportunity for self-dedication. A 

possible form would be : 

O God, through the grace of your Son Jesus Christ and the 
power of the Holy Spirit, grant us those gifts we need to do your work 
in the world. Here people name specific gifts — e.g., a prophetic voice, 
courage, holy anger, compassion . . . There should be silence after each 
naming. Touch us with new life, fill us with hope that your kingdom will 
come, the hungry will be fed, the oppressed set free, and your reconciling 
work be done, so that the whole earth will be filled with your glory. 134 

c. The Dismissal should be just that — a dis-missal, a separating, a cutting off 

134 The ending of this prayer (after the rubrics), is adapted from Christopher Duraisingh 
and Eric Lott, "An Indian Liturgy," in Worship in an Indian Context ed. Eric J. Lott 
(Bangalore: United Theological College, 1986), 77. Note the powerful use of the 
indicative mood ("will come," etc.), rather than the usual explicit or implied subjunctive 
mood ("may come") of much liturgical language. 


from the safe mooring of "holy space." Not only should it be ritualized but the 
ritualization should have energy. One possible way to enact the dismissal in a 
conventional church space would be for the worship leaders to say words of dismissal and 
then follow the people, led by a crucifer, to and even out the door. 

All of these suggestions involve increased participation, and thus a more active 
forming of the body of the individual worshipper and the corporate body of worshippers 
with the intent of increasing the operational efficacy of the liturgy in the direction of 

Ritual Space and Time 
Looking at the nature of the space-time complexity of the Rite II Eucharistic 
liturgy through the lens of Indian street theatre, we can see two shifts in emphasis for a 
reconstructed ritual that would more effectively mediate the emancipatory power of the 
Eucharist. First, Indian street theatre is firmly embedded in the existential struggles of 
daily life and is actually performed in the midst of those struggles. An effectively 
emancipatory Eucharistic ritual will be contextual, rooted more deeply and explicitly in 
the lived world of the participants and especially in the sufferings of that world. The 
situating of most Eucharistic rituals in bounded holy spaces — churches, chapels, or 
cathedrals — tends to loosen the connections of the worshippers to the contexts in which 
they live their lives. In ritual, they often become less, rather than more, humanly 


To reconstruct Eucharistic ritual using the paradigm of Indian street theatre, we 
must ask how the conditions which now are holding people in bondage, both in and 
beyond the immediate community of the worshippers can be most effectively pointed to 
within the ritual. We must ask how the people who are now suffering, excluded, 
oppressed, treated as expendable, can be gathered into the ritual space and how the arena 
of their suffering can be grasped by the liturgy's participants as where they are being sent. 
Both could be accomplished by a sharpening of the Prayers of the People so that the 
participants in the ritual overtly open themselves to the reality of those who suffer 
(including, it must be said, their own sorrows, fears, and pain 135 ). The formulations of 
these prayers must be quite deliberate, in order to ensure that the ritual participants face 
what one Indian theatre activist called "the reality around us that we try to evade." 136 

But I see the paradigm of Indian street theatre as calling Eucharistic liturgy to a 
more radical and literal shift with respect to space. Perhaps the time has come to shift the 
normative space of the ritual from church to streets, parks, and public buildings. The 
sacred space necessary for the performance of the Eucharist can be created by the simple 

135 Randall Nichols addresses the confrontation with the suffering among the participants 
of the ritual as one aspect of the liminality: ". . . if sensitively and intelligently done, 

[worship] can address and draw out those aspects of our real, everyday existence which in 
fact are already liminal — whether it be poverty, illness, loss of a job, divorce, 
bereavement, dislocation, or anything else. ..." "Worship as Anti-Structure: the Contribution of 
Victor Turner," Theology Today, no. 41 (Jan. 1985), 408. 

i36 Kulavai '96 (Chennai [Madras]: M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation, 1997), 


presence of a table and the ritual action of gathering the people. Enacting the Eucharistic 
ritual in "public" spaces would have strong efficacy towards emancipation in a number of 
ways: a. it would firmly root the performance in local conditions of suffering, 
exploitation, and exclusion; b. it would form the identity of — literally — a wayfaring 
"People of God"; and c. it would underline the directionality of the ritual, since the 
"boundary" between Eucharistic performance and the world of daily living would be 
clearly seen as a permeable 
boundary that must be crossed. 137 

Second, a reconstructed Eucharist must challenge established power relationships 
by addressing the hierarchalization of ritual space we saw in Rite n. The way ritual 
participants are distributed in space, the ways they are allowed and not allowed to move, 
are operationally effective and establish what are counted as right relationships in the 
world outside the ritual. 138 The Roman Catholic liturgist Mary Collins asserts that "rituals 
are about relationships." 139 An attempt to construct a more effectively emancipatory 
Eucharistic ritual must grapple with the issue of what kinds of relationships to embody 
and enact in the ritual space as "rehearsals" of transformed relationships in the extra-ritual 

137 A11 of these are in evidence every week at the Common Cathedral service, a Eucharist 
celebrated for a congregation of homeless persons and others on Boston Common by the 
Rev. Deborah Little. 

138 See above, 42-3, on the operational efficacy of performance. 

139 Mary Collins, "Principles of Feminist Liturgy," in Women in Worship ed. Marjorie 
Proctor-Smith and Janet R. Walton (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993), 11 


world. Given the realities of Episcopal Church order and the theology of ordination, re- 
forming the Eucharistic liturgy must allow for some functional division by order, 
especially in the requirement that a bishop or priest preside or be one of the presiders at 
the Eucharistic prayer. However, even given the need to conform to present canonical 
requirements, the relationships embodied and enacted in the ritual space can be made 
more dialogical. Some strategies: 

— The celebrants or "presiders" could be scattered among the people, at least for 
the Liturgy of the Word and possibly for the Eucharistic Prayer. Multiple voices coming 
from different directions are very effective in changing the sense of space. 

— Where logistically feasible, the homily might be preceded or followed by other 
participants' reactions to the lessons. 

— Much more can be made of the Offertory procession. It can certainly be made 
more festive, using music and movement to express and evoke emotions of overflowing 
thanksgiving: is this not a "Eucharist," a thanksgiving? 

— Greater use could be made of litanies and other forms involving responses, 
including, as was mentioned above, the Eucharistic Prayer. 

— Communion could be given and received in smaller groups scattered around the 
ritual space. The altar would function as a center around which stations for Communion 
would form, creating a circular space rather than a "head and foot" or "forward and 
backward" space. 



What insights does the perspective of Indian street theatre as emancipatory 
performance bring to the use of symbols in the Eucharistic liturgy? As we have seen, the 
major symbols in the Rite II liturgy are bread, wine, the altar or "holy table," and the 
People of God, together with the symbolic actions associated with them. Two 
reorientations to these fundamental Eucharistic symbols are suggested by the paradigm of 
Indian street theatre. First, Indian street theatre, while making use of powerful symbols, 
often revalues them. Symbols which are revered in the dominant culture, for example, 
may be ridiculed or otherwise denigrated while an object or action characteristic of the 
life of the oppressed or the excluded may be elevated to a status of honor. 140 Or the 
symbol may be plumbed for hitherto unrealized meanings — or questioned — as in the 
street production by Pralayan's troupe which addressed the problem of female infanticide 
obliquely by portraying the story of a daughter who remains as the only faithful child to 
light her father's funeral pyre, a role traditionally reserved for the son. 141 

Analogously, from the multivalent symbols of bread and wine, additional 
meanings to those used in the Rite II Eucharist may be drawn on in a reconstructed 
liturgy. In line with the emancipatory call to seek justice, peace, and dignity for all 

140 In recent years, many Dalits have reclaimed the playing of their traditional frame drums 
as a sign of identity and pride, despite the fact that historically the drums functioned as 
symbols of their subservience, since they were linked with notions of 
death/pollution/impurity and played at caste Hindu funerals. See Clarke, 67. 

141 Pralayan, interview by author, Chennai (Madras), 18 July, 1998. 


people, other meanings of these central symbols may be highlighted, meanings which 
draw the ritual's participants, through the power of the symbols, into the reality of the 
sufferings of poverty and exploitative social relationships. Bread and wine, for example, 
are produced by human labor in collaboration with the fecundity of the earth, and they are 
inextricably enmeshed in economic structures of production and distribution. Some 
people have bread and wine easily, "freely," without thinking about it. Others struggle 
daily for enough food and drink to maintain the lives of themselves and their children. 
The meanings evoked by the physical bread and wine and the ritual gestures and actions 
in which they are embedded will, in a more effectively emancipatory Eucharist, include 
the processes by which and the social structures within which, the bread and wine were 
produced. As Enrique Dussel has compellingly expressed it: "The bread contains the 
objective life of the worker, his blood, his intelligence, his efforts, his love, his 
enjoyment, his happiness, the kingdom .... For this bread to become the very 'body' of 
the lamb that was slain it has to be the bread of life, — bread that has satisfied, fed, denied 
the denials of death, need, domination, sin: the bread of justice." 142 Dussel approaches 
here something close to the kind of revaluation of symbols that we spoke about with 
respect to Indian street theatre, a revaluation which arises out of opposition to exploitative 
structures and a steady awareness of human suffering. The power of the symbols remains, 

142 Enrique Dussel, "The Bread of the Eucharistic Celebration as a Sign of Justice in the 
Community," in Can We Always Celebrate the Eucharist ed. Mary Collins and David 
Power (New York: Seabury Press, 1982), 61. 


but the participant in being drawn into them is at the same time propelled outward, 
towards systems of justice or injustice in the world beyond the ritual. Here, as qualities of 
the communication of the Eucharistic liturgy to its participants, we have the same crucial 
characteristics of emancipatory performance, oppositionality and directionality, which we 
pointed to in our discussion of the through-line. 

Another set of meanings which should be brought to the foreground in a more 
emancipatorily effective Eucharistic ritual clusters around the bread and wine as Body 
broken and Blood poured out. These meanings, while drawing participants into the 
symbols, at the same time function to push them back out into the world of effective 
action to carry out God's work of justice, dignity, and peace. 143 

Second, in Indian street theatre, symbols are fluid. They appear in the performance 
as they are useful for the emancipatory intent of the creators. This is not to say that the 
symbols used in these performances are not powerful, nor that they do not have weight 
outside the performance, but they are chosen by the performance's creators to respond to a 
particular situation; they are always instrumental, invoked and enacted in order to forward 
the emancipatory purposes of the performance. Drawing on this instrumental freedom, it 
is possible to think of augmenting the symbol system of a Eucharistic ritual with 

143 The question of raising self-sacrifice as a value could be raised here. Some feminists, 
womanists and other presently and formerly colonized people may quite properly object 
that one facet of their oppression is the expectation of self-sacrifice in the interests of the 
dominant. I am speaking, however, from my social location as a middle-class Euro- 
American, from a culture in which consumerism, selfishness, and self-aggrandizement are 
primary values. 


additional symbols, specifically symbolic objects or actions that evoke awareness of those 
who are excluded from the table because of systems of superiority-inferiority, ethnic or 
religious hatreds, or other invidious systems of relationships. One such symbol is an 
empty chair which could stand on the side of or (as long as it is visible) in back of the 
altar. The chair could be incorporated in acts of prayer as well as movement. Some 

a. At the Offertory, the chair, after the gifts are brought forward and received, 
and the people have themselves come forward, the worship leaders could move to the 
chair and pray with the people for those who lack food, who starve while they produce 
bread for others, for all who weep and are persecuted. 

b. A worship leader could also move to the chair and touch it at the Prayers of 
the People and lead a prayer, as for example: "Remember, O God, those who are not with 
us today, those who are alienated from this community, and all who are excluded or cast 
out throughout the world. We hold before you today especially N and N [here the 
celebrant and other participants name individuals or groups who are shut off from full 
human community in some way] . . . ." 144 


144 The symbol of the empty chair and the prayer above were incorporated in a Eucharistic 
liturgy, "A Foretaste of the Messianic Banquet," developed collaboratively by Christopher 
Madeiros, Joan Murray, and myself in June, 1998. The use of the empty chair as symbol 
may be problematic because of its very different use in the traditional celebration of 


In this section we looked through the lens of Indian street theatre as emancipatory 
performance at the Rite II Eucharistic ritual. We saw that there is a common or at least an 
overlapping content to the notion of "emancipation" in both, having to do with the 
creation of conditions of justice, peace, and dignity for all humanity. Then, using Indian 
street theatre as a paradigm of emancipatory communication, we discerned a number of 
possible directions for re-forming Eucharistic liturgy so that God's emancipatory/salvific 
work might be more effectively communicated. With respect to the through-line, our look 
at Indian street theatre pointed to a re-visioned ritual whose through-line was more 
explicitly oppositional, participatory, and directional. With respect to ritual space-time, 
the paradigm indicated two directions for re-forming the Eucharistic ritual: a. 
contextualizing the ritual — including the possibility of taking it out of the church into 
public spaces — to take account of present suffering as object of both prayer and work, 
and b. dismantling the hierarchalization of ritual space. Finally, with respect to the 
symbolic matrix of the ritual, we saw in the nimbus of meanings carried by the central 
symbols a range of meanings which are implicit or ignored in the Rite II Eucharist, but 
could be brought into the foreground; these include the bread and wine as the product of 
human labor and actual food for those who are hungry, as well as the image of self-giving 
love implicit in the breaking of the bread and the pouring out of the wine. And, finally, 
we noted the possibility of augmenting the Eucharistic symbol system with additional 
symbols pointing to those who are excluded from the table because of dehumanizing 
power relationships. 



In this paper we have come to an appreciation of both the fecundity and the 
potency of performance as a medium, and of the way the transforming power of liturgy 
arises out of its nature as performance. As an embodied process, performance 
communicates from person to person, from body to body, from heart to heart. As we have 
seen in our look at Indian street theatre, the power of performance springs not from the 
cognitive content of what it might say, but from the way the message is conveyed below 
and beyond discursive language through an underlying unifying dynamic, through the 
multilayering of space and time, and through symbols that spark emotions and draw 
people into their rich multivalency and ambiguity, making participants of observers. 

We have seen how the ontological complexity of performance — its creation of a 
new, integral reality out of "dramatic reality" layered with the ordinary, accepted world of 
everyday — allows vision, revelation, to be lived in and into. We have also come to 
understand the other side of ontological complexity, how it creates a state of liminality in 
which what is "normal," 'the way things are," is rendered contingent. We have noted the 
connections between this double-sided power of ontological complexity and the power of 
performance to transform both participants and the worlds they live in. And our look at 
Indian street theatre in particular has given vivid examples of how this power can be used 
towards emancipation, towards a fuller humanity for all people. 

Finally, we have used the understanding of emancipatory performance to shed 


new light on religious ritual and especially on Eucharistic liturgy which at its very heart is 
radical performance. The point of this exploration is not, however, simply to understand 
how God's redemptive action is mediated in the liturgy of the Eucharist. The notions of 
through-line, space-time multilayering, and symbols can be consciously used by liturgists 
and even by worship leaders in local churches to provide clues for reshaping Eucharistic 
practice towards emancipatory transformation. This is not manipulation; rather, it is a way 
towards fuller participation in the saving work of God. 



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